Mother watching daughter (7-9) drinking medication in kitchen

National Poison Prevention Week starts Sunday, March 19, and lasts through Saturday, March 25. Celebrate this important week by raising awareness of poison prevention and making sure your home is poison-proof. Follow these steps to help keep you and your family safe.

Only take medicines as prescribed by your health care provider

Many people take at least 1 medicine to manage their health. Taking these medicines as prescribed by your health care provider (doctor) can be an important part of being healthy. But changing your medicine without a doctor’s approval can be very unsafe. This includes stopping your medicine, taking too many, or taking others not prescribed for you. If you want to make changes to your medicine, talk to your doctor before doing so.

It is also important to consider where you and other family members take your medicines. If a child sees someone take medicine in a common area, the child may think it is OK for him or her to take that medicine, too. This can be very unsafe. It is best to take your medicines in private. After you take them, lock them up away from children. If your child is prescribed his or her own medicine, he or she should always take it with a caregiver’s supervision. This helps ensure they take the right dose each time.

Take over-the-counter medicines only as directed

Over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and supplements can be both helpful and convenient. They are available at most stores and work well when used correctly. But be sure to read the drug facts and labels before using these products. And never take more than the package says.

It is also important to talk with your doctor or pharmacist before taking over-the-counter medicines. This is because some products can react with medicine you already take. Before adding anything new to your medicine routine, talk to your doctor or pharmacist first.

Dispose of all expired or unused medicines safely

Be sure to check the expiration dates on all medicines. Taking medicines past their expiration dates can be unsafe. If you think you have old medicine in your home, check your cabinets and dispose of them safely.

Safe disposal of medicines is important. There is also a special way to do this. Putting them down the drain can pollute the water supply. And throwing them away makes it easy for someone to find and take them. Here is how to get rid of medicines safely. First, mix all expired medicines in a plastic bag or empty coffee container. Mix these with something unpleasant, like kitty litter or used coffee grounds. Seal the bag or container. Then, throw it away. Remember to scratch out all your personal information on the medicine bottle before throwing that away, too.

Keep all potential poisons out of children’s reach

In addition to medicines, everyday household items can also be poisonous. For example, soaps and laundry pods can be harmful if swallowed. And these products come in many different shapes and colors. Children often confuse them for candy. This is very dangerous. Keeping these products in their original containers can help. They will be less likely confused for candy. And it is just as important to store these products out of children’s reach. Lock them up in an area children can’t get to, like a high cabinet or shelf.

Here is a list of items to keep away from children and locked away at all times:


Laundry and dish soaps (liquid and pods)

Bug killers and pesticides

Cleaning products


Hair care products


Products with alcohol, like mouthwash and hand sanitizer

Avoid lead

Lead poisoning can happen by swallowing or inhaling lead. Although lead is not used in new products, it is commonly found in old homes. If you live in an older building, you may have lead and not even know it. Lead can come from painted surfaces, old pipes, and old toys. You can help prevent lead poisoning by keeping your home, your family, and household items clean.

If you want to check if your home or water has lead in it, you can get a free lead testing kit. Request your free kit from the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority at 202-612-3440.

Use a carbon monoxide detector in your home

Another danger in homes may be carbon monoxide (CO). CO is found in the fumes of burned fuel. And this dangerous gas can’t be seen or smelled. To help prevent CO from building up in your home, get your heater and other home appliances checked by a technician each year. It’s also important never to burn anything in your home, on a stove, or in the fireplace without an open vent. Engines can also produce CO. This means don’t run your car or other motors in a closed garage or inside any building. This can cause sickness and even death.

The best way to help detect CO in your home is by installing a CO detector. If your detector alarm sounds, leave your home and call 911 right away.

Know what to do in case of a poisoning

Poisonings can happen anywhere. But there are many ways to prevent them and keep your family safe. Be prepared and have a plan in case of an emergency.

Remember these important poison prevention tips:

If you or someone you know is having trouble breathing or is unconscious, call 911 right away.

If you or someone you know was poisoned, stay calm and call Poison Help at 1-800-222-1222.

If you or someone you know inhales a poison, get to fresh air right away.

If you or someone you know gets poison on the skin, take off any clothing the poison may have touched. Then, rinse the skin with running water for 15 to 20 minutes.

If you or someone you know gets poison in the eyes, rinse the eyes with running water for 15 to 20 minutes.

Save these numbers in your phone for help at any time:

In case of an emergency, call 911

For Poison Help, call 1-800-222-1222

For AmeriHealth Caritas District of Columbia (DC) Member Services, call 1-800-408-7511

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Health Resources and Service Administration

All images are used under license for illustrative purposes only. Any individual depicted is a model.

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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