Preventing Accidental Poisoning

Published: February 20, 2021


Older patients who take multiple medications are at increased risk for accidental poisonings. They have complex medication regimens, often involving multiple medications prescribed by several physicians, that make them vulnerable to accidental poisonings.

Older patients and their caregivers should:

  • Keep a list of medications. A written record of the medications you are taking, including drug name, dosage, and frequency, is an important tool to have during physician visits and in case of an emergency.
  • Communicate. Inform your doctor and pharmacist of all the medications you are taking, including over-the-counter (OTC) medications and dietary supplements. This will help reduce the chances of an adverse interaction.
  • Learn about your medications. Ask your doctor or pharmacist to explain why you are taking the medication you have been prescribed, the foods and medicines you should avoid, and possible reactions and side effects.
  • Use one pharmacy. Many seniors receive prescriptions from more than one doctor, making drug interactions more likely. By using one pharmacy, all of your prescription medications are filled in one place, and your pharmacist can check for possible interactions between medications.
  • Keep a journal. Make a note of all symptoms, especially after taking your medications. Painful or unexpected side effects may signal a need for adjusting your medication regimen.
  • Maintain a schedule. Holding to a routine can decrease your chances of missing a dose or taking more than needed.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that approximately 9 of 10 accidental poisonings occur in the home. Sixty percent of accidental poisonings are children younger than age six, and close to half of poisonings in children of this age group involve misuse of medications.

Below are safety tips that every parent, caregiver, and grandparent should use to prevent accidental poisonings:

  • Avoid taking medications in the presence of children, as they often try to imitate adults.
  • Don't call medicine "candy."
  • Use child-resistant closures on medicine and other products.
  • Keep all medications (both prescription and OTC) in their original child-resistant containers.
  • Always turn on the light when giving or taking medicine.
  • Check your medications periodically for expiration dates. If the medication is not dated, consider it expired six months after purchase.

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