Keeping children safe around medicines

If you are planning to spend time with others and there are young children about, please remember to keep your medicines out of sight and out of reach.

Keeping children safe around medicines

For many Australians, the end of the year is a time for coming together with family and friends. As COVID-19 restrictions ease and travel is once again a possibility, this year will be no exception.

If you are planning to spend time with others and there are young children about, please remember to keep your medicines out of sight and out of reach. Every year around 1500 children aged 4 years and younger end up in hospital because of accidental poisoning from prescription medicines.1


How does accidental poisoning from medicines happen in children?

Australian data shows that many accidental poisonings in children under 4 years happen in the home.2,3 Accidental poisoning can happen for several reasons, such as giving the wrong dose or using a medicine not suitable for that age group. 

Children aged 1– 3 years often place objects in their mouths as they explore the world around them. This puts them at high risk of accidental poisoning. They may find and try to eat medicines that are not put away in a safe and secure place.


Which medicines are dangerous to children?

All medicines are potentially harmful to children. This includes medicines prescribed by your doctor, medicines you can buy at the pharmacy or supermarket, herbal medicines and vitamin supplements. Remember, medicines are not just liquids or tablets/capsules. They can also be creams, patches and injection pens.

Children have ended up in hospital following accidental poisoning from:1

  • pain relief medicines such as paracetamol
  • medicines used to treat diabetes and heart disease
  • strong pain medicines such as opioids
  • medicines used to treat seizures
  • medicines for mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.

Use our Medicine Finder to learn more about the medicines you are taking.


5 ways to avoid accidental medicine poisonings in children

1. Keep all medicines out of sight and out of reach

✓ Do store medicines at least 1.5 metres above the ground where they cannot be seen. The best place is in a cupboard with a child-proof latch.

✗ Do not leave medicines on a counter or table. Children may try to climb up if they see them.

Some medicines need to be kept in the fridge. Put them in a plastic container with a tightly fitting lid. Try to keep them towards the back of the top shelf, not in the fridge door shelves. 

2. Know how to give medicines safely

✓ Do use the measuring cup, dropper or syringe that came with the medicine, or ask the pharmacist for one.

✗ Do not use a household spoon or cup to measure out a liquid medicine.

Young children’s bodies are small. Even a small mistake in how much medicine you give them can be harmful instead of helpful.

3. Don’t let children see you taking medicines

✗ Do not take medicines in front of young children. They like to copy adults.

If you keep medicines in a handbag, put it in a safe place, especially when visiting homes where there are young children.

4. Store medicines safely after use

✓ Do put medicines back in a safe place immediately after use. Make sure any caps or lids are properly closed, and that cupboard doors are shut securely.

5. Dispose of expired or unused medicines

✓ Do take any unused and out-of-date medicines to a pharmacy for free and safe disposal.

✗ Do not put them in your rubbish bin, down the sink or flush them down the toilet.


Get help immediately if poisoning has occurred

If you think accidental poisoning has happened, you should:

  • contact the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 or
  • take the person to the nearest hospital emergency department.

If the child is having trouble breathing, cannot stay awake or is in great distress call 000 immediately and ask for an ambulance.


More information about medicines safety

Medicines Line (1300 633 424) Information for consumers on prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines.

Tips for giving medicine to children safely Three short videos from NPS MedicineWise and the Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network.

How to give medicines to children Learn how to give medicine safely and accurately to a child.