How I Lost Mother of the Year in 2008 to Medicine Over-Dose

This post appeared in The Huffington Post 4/19/16

I learned about poisoning by medicine overdose by accident. Sometimes we learn lessons the hard way. My nearly two-year-old gave this lesson first-hand.

Just for the record, my youngest child, has taught me more lessons about fear than any of my kids. He has stood, pressed against nothing more than a flimsy screen, from the third story that overlooked a concrete patio and cement stairs, defying death. I have also called 9-1-1 twice regarding him. That’s two more times than I have with any of my six children–combined! The first time he was hiding, the second time was far more frightening.

Mother of the Year has never been in my cards, however, in 2008, any beam of hope was snuffed out completely. I thought I had taken all the precautionary details. I had put medicine in a cabinet, which I thought was, out of reach for my young toddler.

In a moment where time seemed to accelerate, rather than stall, I left the kitchen, walked around the corner to use the restroom–less than three minutes–and when I returned, my son was standing on the counter, drinking a bottle of Children’s Ibuprofen like it was an ice-cold soda!

The bottle now empty as my son sighed with accomplishment and wiped his chubby arm across his medicine covered mouth.

My heart stopped!

My feet dashed!

My hands trembled as I raked through the phone book trying to get my mind to focus so I could find the number to Poison Control. When panic took over as I tried to recall if I should induce vomiting or keep it down, I abandoned the phone book and called 9-1-1.

I’m not alone, 500,000 times each year a child gets into medicine or gets the wrong dose. Tell me that isn’t a frightening fact!

I learned the hard way, but you don’t have to go through the terror I did.

“Children Act Fast…So Do Poisons!”
Every minute of every day, a poison control center receives a call about potential medicine poisoning for a child under the age of five.

67,000 times each year, or every eight minutes, a young child goes to the emergency room for medicine poisoning. Over the past decade, this is a 30-percent increase.

Data collected from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, poison control centers and findings from several focus groups among moms. It also takes an in-depth look at what is happening in households that are leading to these tragic numbers.

The increase in exposure reflects the increase in medicines in the home.

Most adults take medicine or vitamins on a regular basis; eight out of ten adults consume, at least, one medicine or vitamin in the past week, and three out of ten adults took five or more.

In 86 percent of emergency room visits for medicine poisoning, the child got into medicine belonging to an adult.

I’m living proof that in spite of what I believed, there was a failure. It took just minutes for my child to drink the entire bottle! It took hours of monitoring at the Emergency Room to be sure he was okay and more hours at home keeping a watchful eye in the event there was some reaction.

Here are some tips to keep kiddos safe around medicine and prevent medication overdose

• Put medicines up and away and out of sight.
• Make sure that all medicines, including vitamins and adult medicines, are stored out of reach and out of sight of children.
• Consider products you might not think about as medicines.

It may be tempting to keep medicine close at hand when you need to give another dose of medicine in just a few hours. Accidents can happen fast. It only takes a few seconds for children to get into medicine that could make them very sick. Put medicine up and away after every use. And if you need a reminder, set the alarm on your watch or cell phone, or write yourself a note.

Read the label and know what’s in the medicine.

Take the time to read the label and follow the directions on your child’s medicine. Check the active ingredients listed on the label. Don’t give your child more than one medicine with the same active ingredient. Giving your child, two or medicines that have the same active ingredient can put your child at risk for an overdose.

Put the Poison Control number in your home where it is visible and in your cell phone: 1-800-222-1222.

1 (800) 222-1222
American Association of Poison Control Centers
Hours: 24 hours, 7 days a week


Safe Kids Worldwide Medication Safety Infographic medicine over-dose

I believed I was doing everything I could to protect my children.

It wasn’t enough.

Thankfully it didn’t end fatally or cause a lifetime of health issues for my child.

One of the most encouraging things the doctor at ER said to me, as I sat with tears flooding my eyes was this:

“Don’t blame yourself. It happens, but go home and make the changes to prevent it from happening again.”
The moment we got home from ER, I moved all medication to the top shelf in my closet, where even I could not reach it without a stepping stool. Sure, it was inconvenient for me, but it was a change that reminded me about the risks of medicines in my home.

Together, we can change the statistics of children’s medicine overdose. Take a moment to examine your medicine cabinet and move medications that put children at risk for accidental medicine overdose.


  1. says

    What an awesome right up! It was so informative and helpful. This happens more than any of us would like to think about. Thank you for sharing your story!

  2. says

    Oh, what a story!
    It’s really scary when you see your own wonder in front of you swallowing the whole bottle of the liquid medicine.
    You have all that courage and control of poise to call the right services to get help.
    The most important thing in any situation like yours is to maintain calmness to take the right action. You did it, Jules.

  3. Barbara Mayes says

    My now grown daughter opened the fridge when she was about 18 months, opened a childproof bottle of bubblegum flavored antibiotic and downed it. Thank God, I had syrup of ipecac on hand and after calling the ER for advice, they instructed me to give her the syrup. Of course, she threw it all up..and NEVER got into any meds again.

  4. Nicole Pafford says

    I am not trying to downplay what you are saying at ALL! But with me under medicating was the problem and my son had a seizure because of it. My son contracted a strange virus and ran 103+ fevers for weeks and I did what I was told to do by the doctors, alternate tylenol and ibuprofen. Well I followed the dose on the bottle for his age and it didn’t bring down the fever. He spikes a 106 fever (brain damage territory) and started to seize. After we got to the ER and they iced and medicated him I was given a list based on weight not age and I have never had that problem again.

  5. Tricia Tanner says

    Been there, done that. I had a bottle of chewable children tylenol for my then 2 year old high functioning ASD child (he’s now 8 and healthy) in his diaper bag. I ran into my parents garage to get a tool for a construction project at my house and had left him in his car seat – buckled. He figured out to unbuckle and open the “child proof” cap. He ate the entire brand new bottle. The ER was only 7 minutes from where I was so I took him straight there. Each time I explained what happened, they kept asking me if I was sure. They stopped asking me after they received the blood test back and then proceeded to give him chocolate flavored charcoal.

  6. says

    My younger daughter is allergic to milk, peanut butter, eggs, and cats… Obviously all things we keep in the house. While all her allergies are mild, with the exception of milk, we do our best to keep the “bad” foods from her. We have to keep children’s benadryl and an epi-pen Jr in our diaper bag at all times. I can’t tell you how many times I walk into a room to see my older daughter rummaging through the bag. While I am constantly checking caps on medicines and we keep our own medicines and all cleaners in areas of the house where the kids can’t go, it is always a concern that they will find a way into something we missed. My brother was always into things, getting himself hidden or lost in a crowd, injured or injuring someone or something else! He really did turn into a very responsible person. I’m very glad your son is okay. It is scary, you sound like you are doing the best for your kids that you can, try to remember you are only human…

    • says

      It is frightening. There is so much that can harm our children. NO matter how much we want to protect them, it’s not always possible. Thank you for your kind words. I am a reflection of being human.

  7. Ginger says

    My story involved Sudafed. The stupid have basically a sugar coating, and they’re bright red. My son got a blister sheet of them out of my purse when he was a toddler and my back was turned for 3 seconds. I saw the red all over his fingers and called poison control. After assessing his weight, age, and the dose he took, they said he was going to be very hyper, then was going to sleep very well, and to just make sure he could be roused easily once he was sleeping. But, it’s so scary when it happens!

    • says

      It’s so scary! The coat medicine in pretty color and add coatings like you mention to make it easier to get children (and adults) to take, but it also makes it very attractive to little ones. I”m so glad your child is okay and Poison Control gave you advice that hopefully eased your mind.

  8. says

    When I first saw the title, I thought it was referring to you loosing your mother to medicine overdose but I see that it’s about children. This is a wonderful reminder for people of all ages for we tend for it not on the top of our minds as the children get older. I do want to bring to other’s attention though, overdose to aging adults is also very important. I’m going through a time with my mother, who has always been quick to think and act but who is on medications for some time now. On several occassions I took her to the hospital they have asked if she could be taking her meds too much since she lives on her own. I now see with the pain she has been in and her sleep patterns that have been altered, I realize she started taking her meds sometimes more and sometimes not at all. I realize now how much more monitoring that has to be done. It’s very hard taking her independence away.

    • says

      This is such a valid point. I know my husband’s grandmother was on blood pressure medicine and one day took her prescribed dosage. She then couldn’t remember if she took it so she took it again…and awhile later, once again. She ended up in the hospital with a heart nearly stopped. It is imperative we read labels and keep medicine out of reach and monitored for anyone! Thank you for sharing. I hope your mother is doing well and you are getting rest as a caregiver.

  9. Tiffany Ann says

    If (knock on wood) this ever happens in my home… I will def. be calling 911 for them to walk me through what to do first before I do anything. So glad I read this!

  10. Tiffany Ann says

    Thank you for this post. Very important info in here! I worry about every little thing like this with my kids. I can not imagine. Living in the country it would take 15-20 for the squad to get here and another 30mins to the hospital. Scary!!

  11. Tiffany Ann says

    Oh wow! Thank you for letting me know because, my reaction would be to call 911, and stick my fingers down my toddlers mouth to try to stop the o.d!

    • says

      @Tiffany Ann: It won’t take poison control or 9-1-1 that long to tell you the course of action. Sometimes they may very well ask you to induce vomiting, but always call them to be sure. One mistake doesn’t need to become two.

  12. Tiffany Ann says

    So if a kid does accidently take meds so I endues vomiting before the squad gets to my house to try to get the meds out before overdoes????

  13. Amy says

    MY daughter was 2 yrs old when she drank half a bottle of Children’s Dimetapp. I walked out of the room and thought, “I need to put that away.” Turned around and walked back into the room and she handed me an empty bottle! I knew I had placed the “Child-proof” cap on…Here’s another tip: The cap must be tightly secured to be child-proof. Even millimeters shy of that mark, and it’s not.

    • says

      It happens so quickly.
      Good advice on the cap being aligned and secure.
      I hope your daughter recovered.
      Such a frightening discovery for any child!

  14. says

    (((HUGS))) I have been there. My now 9 year old actually took 3 of my mom’s blood pressure pills when he was a little over 2 years old. We have no idea how he got the bottle open but found him in the kitchen with the bottle open and chewing them. We only knew it was 3 as she had JUST had them refilled and had the bottle in her purse from picking it up at pharmacy that day.

    Thanks for the great info here!