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6 Ways to keep kids safe around medications

Young teen looks at a pill bottle while in front of a mirror.

You might be pretty good at home security. Many people have doorbell cameras, security alarm systems, door locks, window locks and child locks. But have you ever thought about medication storage? Medications are often left in places where curious children can find them, like bathroom cabinets, purses and nightstands. It helps to have a strategy to prevent kids from accessing medications.

  1. Talk about medications and safety.

Medications can help heal and manage discomfort. Opioids are medications prescribed to help with pain control. Misusing these medications means taking pills that were not prescribed to you, taking too many or taking them in a way they are not meant to be taken. Misusing opioids can lead to:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Confusion
  • Addiction
  • Overdose
  • Death

Helping your child understand the proper use and improper use of medication can help them understand the risks and benefits. Our role as adults is to make sure kids know that they should not take medication without adult supervision.

  1. Keep medications up and away.

Every day, around 165 kids end up in the emergency room because they got into medicines, vitamins, supplements or other product. Toddlers are often the age group you think of to protect from dangers in the house, but teens can be just as curious. Teenagers may use medications for self-harm, to get high or because of peer pressure to take or share medications. The main source for teens to abuse is:

  • Their friends
  • The home medicine cabinet
  • Their friend’s medicine cabinet

Be sure to lock up medications and keep out of reach from all children and adolescents. This includes putting away over-the-counter medications after use. Use lockable medication boxes, cabinet locks and weekly medication storage boxes to help keep medications secure.

  1. Know what medications are in the house.

Prescription medications, pain relievers, allergy medications, over-the-counter medicines, vitamins and supplements can have harmful effects if taken by someone they are not meant for, or if abused.

  • Keep track of all medications, especially known to be addictive like opioids, benzodiazepines and stimulants.
  • Know how many pills are in each bottle.
  • Monitor doses and keep track of refills.

If you or your child has been prescribed opioids or pain killers, it can sometimes attract drug seekers. These seekers can be anyone from siblings, relatives, friends, neighbors or strangers who are wanting to take medication not prescribed to them. It’s reported that 70% of people who abuse prescription opioids commonly get them from friends and relatives.

  1. Dispose of unused medication.

Medications can expire and should be disposed of from the home. It is important to dispose of medications when they are no longer needed. There are a few ways to properly dispose of medications to help reduce the risk of someone accidentally taking them or intentionally abusing medications.

  1. Use a designated disposal location. There may be a drug collection bin close to you, like at your local pharmacy.
  2. Dispose of medication at home. Mix medicine with dirt, cat litter, dish soap or used coffee grounds to make it less appealing. Don’t crush the tablets or capsules. Put it in a sealed plastic bag and then in the trash. Scratch out any personal identification on the pill bottle labels and throw away.
  1. Make it okay to ask questions and seek help.

It’s always good to have an open conversation about drug use and mental health with your child. Try to think of it as a gradual conversation where you’re regularly having check-ins. It can become a common thing to have a touch base and gives them a chance to tell you what’s going on.

  1. Encourage your village to be involved.

Your child’s village can include coaches, teachers, friends’ parents, family members, neighbors, grandparents and other adults in their lives. Make sure groups know the risks and ask them to always monitor the medications in their homes.

Parents and caregivers can be the best defense for keeping their kids away from drugs. A key to keeping kids safe from drug abuse is communication and reducing access. Doing this it will help keep kids safe and protected.

Watch the Prepped and Ready: Experts Edition video series to learn about safe medication storage, handling tough topics with teens and more parenting tips!

Additional resources:

Poison Control Hotline – 1 (800) 222-1222

Medication safety information from Children's Mercy


Program Manager – Comfort Promise and Opioid Stewardship

Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

Associate Professor of Pediatrics, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine; Assistant Professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Science, University of Kansas School of Medicine

4.9 out of 5
Center for Childhood Safety and Injury Prevention