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Grandparents: Keep Your Medications Safe

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT
Meet The Team >

Kids love going over to their grandparent’s house, and grandparents adore visits from their grandchildren.

We’re sure there are exceptions to this, but for the most part we’re confident of the accuracy of that statement.

After all, what’s not to love?

From the grandparents’ perspective, they get all the love and adoration of the kids – but get to send them home for the meal times and bedtime. And from the kids’ perspective, they get all the love and adoration of their grandparents – plus extra dessert, extra screen time, and usually a thoughtful gift or trinket to take home.

This is all feelgood material, by definition.

However, a recent report based on a poll conducted by the University of Michigan and the AARP – called the National Poll on Healthy Aging – reveals that most grandparents don’t safeguard their medications when their grandchildren visit.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) underscores the danger of this oversight:

38% of children treated in emergency rooms for medication-related poisoning ingested medication that belonged to their grandparents.

This includes young kids just playing around, unaware of what they’re doing, as well as older kids – adolescents, mostly – using sleep aids or opioid pain medication for non-prescription purposes. In both cases, the kids are at risk, and there are some simple steps grandparents can take to make sure their medications are not taken accidentally or intentionally misused.

Grandparents and Caregiving

Most parents – most everyone, for that matter – understand that grandparents play an important supporting role in raising kids. The size of the role they play depends on practical things like logistics – grandparents that live close to their grandchildren typically interact more with them – and family dynamics – if there’s tension between the parents and the grandparents, this may diminish the time grandparents spend with their grandchildren.

Here are some quick statistics on grandparents and caregiving in the U.S., published in the University of Michigan/AARP poll:

  • 86% said their grandchildren visit them at least once a year
  • 67% say they provide care for their grandchildren
  • 42% care for them at least once a month
  • 18% care for them at least once a week
  • 10% care for them full-time

Each of those interactions – regardless of the duration – presents an opportunity for kids to access their grandparents’ medication. And the access they may have is easy.

Here’s what the poll says about how grandparents store their medications in their own homes:

  • 61% keep them in unlocked cabinets, cupboards, or drawers
  • 18% keep them out on countertops or tables
  • 7% keep them in purses or bags
  • 5% keep them in locked cupboards or cabinets

And here’s what the poll says about how grandparents carry/store their medication when they visit their grandchildren:

  • 75% keep them in their purse or bag
  • 7% leave them on a counter or table
  • 7% lock them in in cupboard or cabinet

We understand that at this point you may be wondering what the big deal is. As the stats show, it’s relatively uncommon to lock up medication at home, and when traveling, the likelihood decreases stays about the same.

Is it really all that dangerous?

We’ll remind of that CDC statistic: close to 40% of medication-related emergency room visits happen after kids get into their grandparents’ medication.

That’s an unnecessary, preventable danger, especially when the fix is simple.

What Grandparents Can Do

Awareness is the first step.

Grandparents should be aware of the CDC statistic we cited above: since most grandparents love their grandchildren more than anything else in the world, we think that 38% figure will be enough to change their behavior.

So, what are the most effective behavioral changes grandparents can make that will keep young kids from taking medication by accident, and prevent older kids from misusing medications like sleep aids or opioid pain relievers?

Here’s a helpful to-do list.

Five Things Grandparents Can do to Keep Medication Safe

  1. Always keep all medications in a locked cabinet or drawer.
  2. Keep track of the amount. Count pills, and if there’s a discrepancy between what’s there and what should be there, try to find out why.
  3. Grandparents who use daily pill boxes/sorters should do one of two things:
    • Remind younger kids that the pills are only for their grandparents to take and can be very dangerous for kids to take.
    • Lock the daily sorters up safely in a cabinet or drawer.
  4. When visiting grandkids, take medication out of purses, luggage, or toiletry kits and lock them up.
  5. When teenagers are around, keep any and all opioid-related pain medication safely out of reach.

The last point is important.

While only a small percentage of teenagers would go looking for medication to use for non-prescription purposes – i.e. raiding the medicine cabinet to find opioids – it’s critical to err on the side of caution. No grandparent we can think of wants to be the reason their grandchild becomes another data point in the opioid epidemic.

It’s a good thing the most effective way to prevent this from happening is so easy: make it habit to keep medications safely away from children, and opioid medications far from any potential misuse by curious teens.

If you think your grandchild has accidentally ingested prescription medication, do not wait- act immediatley. Call poison control at 1-800-222-1222, go to webPOISONCONTROL online, or call 911.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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