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This article orginally appeared in the Feb. 25, 2009 issue of the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

Last year, the Missouri Regional Poison Center handled more than 195,000 calls, many of them related to errors with prescription and over-the-counter medications. It's easy to understand how these things happen — many of us have made a mistake in reading a medication label, or have forgotten whether we already took a medication dose.

That's why the Missouri Regional Poison Center, a statewide program of Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center, will be participating in National Poison Prevention Week, March 15-21. This year's theme is "Poison Prevention Spans a Lifetime."

"Medication errors can be prevented, but it takes careful attention to the labels on prescription and over-the-counter medications," says Dr. Anthony Scalzo, medical director of the poison center.

If you need emergency help, call the Missouri Regional Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222.

Unfortunately, medication errors are all too common, but they can be prevented. Here are some tips for preventing medication mishaps in children and adults:

     — Lock away all medicines and vitamins. Child-resistant packaging will slow down children but will not stop them from getting into the product.

    — Never call medicine candy, or make a game of having your child take it. Avoid taking medicine in front of your children, as they may try to mimic your behavior.

    — Supervise your child when answering the phone or the door. It only takes a moment for children to swallow medicine that is not intended for them.

    — Communicate with other adults who care for your child. Children often get overdoses of medicine when one caregiver forgets to tell others that the child has already received a required dose.

    — Be responsible. Understand the directions for using and storing all products and medications. Never mix different medications in one container, and never add leftover medication from one container into new medication in another. Do not put medications into unlabeled containers.

    — Keep a list of all your medications and dosages. Always use the same pharmacy and double-check every prescription to be sure you receive the correct medication and dose.

    — If you wear glasses, always use them when dispensing medications. Never take medications in the dark.

    — Keep all medications and potentially harmful materials out of the reach of children.

Dr. Bob Wilmott is chief of pediatrics at Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center and is a professor of pediatric medicine at St. Louis University School of Medicine. If you have a question about your child's health, go to the "Ask Dr. Bob" section of the Cardinal Glennon website at


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