One Pill Can Kill – Medications That Can Kill a Child if Ingested

Doctors, Hospitals, & Medicine, Safety for Kids

One Pill Can Kill – Medications That Can Kill a Child if Ingested

As an emergency room physician, I see overdoses to medications all the time. Many prescription and non-prescription medications can cause illness and death in children. In this article I will discuss medications where ONE PILL CAN KILL a young child.

It’s a terrible tragedy. Many of these overdoses are toddlers who mistook medication for candy with potentially deadly consequences. Help make your home and child safer. Know the medications that just one pill can kill and which must not be accessible AT ALL by your child.


Pain Medication – Narcotics / Opioids

Example medication names: oxycodone, methadone, hydrocodone.

Dangers for children: lethargy, breathing difficulty, death.

Children may be more sensitive to the effects of opioids than adults. Pain reliever medication, including acetaminophen, is the most frequent cause of medication-induced fatality from accidental ingestion. Luckily there is an antidote for the treatment of opioid overdose, so it is important to alert the paramedic or doctor if you suspect an opioid overdose.

Depression medications – Tricyclic antidepressants

Medication names: Amitriptyline, Imipramine, Desipramine.

Dangers in children: seizures, arrhythmias, coma, death.

Antidepressants are the second leading cause of accidental death by poisoning, after pain medications.


Heart medications – Calcium channel blockers

Example medication names: diltiazem, nifedipine, amlodipine.

Used for: high blood pressure, angina, arrhythmia.

Dangers for children: low blood pressure, low heart rate, seizures, death.

A child can become ill up to 15 hours after taking the medicine. Treatment is supportive – giving fluid and blood pressure elevating medications can help.

Muscle ointments or vapor rub – Camphor-containing ointment

Used for: congestion, muscle aches, cough.

Dangers for children: hyperactivity, seizures, coma, delirium, death.

A toxic ingestion for a toddler is a mere 1 teaspoon! Ingesting one of the ointments can lead to symptoms within 30 minutes. Call 911 ASAP if you note the smell of camphor on a child’s breath.

Aspirin/oil of wintergreen – Salicylates

Example medication names: acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), methyl salicylate.

Uses: prevents heart attacks, pain reliever, flavoring.

Dangers for children: vomiting, seizures, sweating, lethargy, coma, death.

Even a very small amount of ASA or oil of wintergreen can kill a child. 4 ml of oil of wintergreen may cause death. It smells nice and is tempting to a child to drink.

Diabetes medications – Sulfonylureas

Uses: type 2 diabetes management.

Dangers in children: headache, confusion, dangerously low blood sugar, seizures, coma.

As the rates of diabetes rise, there will be more of these medications around for kids to get access to. Children may not show any signs of low blood sugar for hours after ingestion. Giving these children glucose (sugar) can be life saving.

Remember, other people who are looking after your child and may have medications that can kill a child in a bag or purse that a toddler can gain access to. I frequently treat toddlers who took a medication out of a grandparent’s bag. Make sure everyone who cares for your child understands these dangers–at your home and elsewhere.

Please ask all caregivers if they use these medications. If they are accessible to a child, move them and keep them far away!

The general information provided on the Website is for informational purposes and is not medical advice.

Do NOT use this Website for medical emergencies.

If you have a medical emergency, call a physician or qualified healthcare provider, or CALL 911 immediately. Under no circumstances should you attempt self-treatment based on anything you have seen or read on this Website. Always seek the advice of your physician or other licensed and qualified health provider in your jurisdiction concerning any questions you may have regarding any information obtained from this Website and any medical condition you believe may be relevant to you or to someone else. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Website.

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