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Avoid an unintentional overdose

Photo: RapidEye/iStockphoto

Even seemingly harmless over-the-counter medications can be dangerous if you’re not taking the correct dosage. The Food and Drug Administration has 10 safety tips:

  1. Always follow the directions found on the “Drug Facts” label of the medication. Read the label every time before taking the medicine or giving it to someone else.
  2. Find the “active ingredient” listed at the top of the label. Some active ingredients are used in different types of OTC medications, so taking two medications that contain the same active ingredient could lead to an overdose. If you’re unsure about how much to take, check with a doctor, nurse or pharmacist.
  3. Talk to your doctor, pharmacist or nurse about possible drug interactions. Some medications may be incompatible with other medications, supplements, foods or beverages.
  4. Give the correct medicine in the correct amount. Medications with the same brand name can be sold in various strengths and for various age groups. The dosing instructions for children, for example, vary based on age and weight. Always use the correct-strength medication and follow the instructions exactly.
  5. Know the difference between a tablespoon (tbsp) and a teaspoon (tsp). A tablespoon can hold three times as much medicine as a teaspoon. On measuring tools, a teaspoon is equal to 5 milliliters (mL).
  6. If the medicine comes with a dropper, cup or syringe, use it. Different devices or inaccurate utensils such as kitchen spoons may hold the wrong amount of medicine. Never drink medications directly from the bottle.
  7. Know your child’s weight. Never guess how much medicine to give your child or try to figure it out based on the recommended adult dose. If a dose isn’t listed for your child’s age or weight, call your health care professional.
  8. Prevent poisoning by always using a child-resistant cap, and make sure the cap is locked after every use. Be particularly careful with medications containing iron, as they’re the leading cause of poisoning death among young children.
  9. Store all medications in a safe place. Some medicines are colorful, chewy or tasty, and – to a child – may seem like candy. All medications and vitamins should be stored out of your child’s sight and reach. If your child takes too much of any medicine or supplement, the Poison Control Center can be reached 24 hours a day, seven days a week at (800) 222-1222.
  10. Check the medicine three times before using it. First, check the outside packaging for any cuts, slices or tears. Then check the inside label to make sure you have the correct medication, and verify that the lid and seal haven’t been broken. Finally, check the color, size, shape and smell of the medication itself. Talk to your pharmacist if you notice anything unusual.

Have you heard of naloxone? Also known by the brand names Narcan and RiVive, it’s a medication that rapidly reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.

The FDA recently approved a naloxone nasal spray for over-the-counter use. The National Safety Council encourages everyone to include the product in their first aid kits when it becomes available. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist.

Aug. 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day.

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