Thousands of adults call poison line for over-the-counter drug mistakes

Kentucky Poison Control Center received more than 14,000 calls last year about adults taking over-the-counter medication, often for wrong dosage or other mistakes.

Most Kentuckians are aware of the hazards of using illegal drugs and abusing prescriptions, but many don’t know that over-the-counter medications also can be dangerous.

Of the nearly 50,000 calls to the Kentucky Poison Control Center of Norton Children’s Hospital last year, more than 14,000 were about medication exposures in adults, many of whom had made mistakes when taking medication. Some of these cases led to symptoms that could be managed at home, while others led to changes in heart rate and blood pressure that required medical care.

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“Many people don’t realize that when used incorrectly, over-the-counter medications can have serious consequences,” said Maria Chapman, poison prevention coordinator with the Kentucky Poison Control Center.

According to the Kentucky Poison Control Center, here are the most common mistakes adults make with over-the-counter medicines:

Not reading the label

This can lead to taking too much medicine or taking it too often, which can cause an overdose.

Not knowing the active ingredients

Many over-the-counter medications have the same active ingredient, which can lead to an overdose if multiple medications are taken at the same time. Some ingredients also can have negative reactions with daily prescription medications.

Not measuring the correct dosage

For liquid medications, using kitchen measuring spoons or the measuring device from a different medication can lead to an overdose. Always use the dosing device that comes with the medication.

Keeping leftover medications

Keeping old prescription and over-the-counter drugs means they can fall into the wrong hands. The potency of medicines also changes over time, which can lead to reactions when taken.

Chapman recommends disposing of medications properly.

“Most over-the-counter medicines can be safely disposed of by mixing them with kitty litter or used coffee grounds in a zip-top bag or other container,” she said. “However, some more potent medications need to be disposed in a specific way to reduce the risk of exposure to others. Many pharmacies and law enforcement offices have medication disposal boxes. The Kentucky Poison Control Center can help you determine the correct way to dispose of a medication or direct you to the nearest drop-off location.”


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