Newswise — At the Cincinnati Drug and Poison Information Center, the number of calls regarding drug overdoses into our 24-hour hotline continue to rise as the nation copes with the opioid epidemic.

Drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental deaths in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Opioids are the main force behind this which affects all ages and communities.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports children and teens hospitalized for opioid poisoning tripled between 1997 and 2012. While most of the overdose patients were teens, the largest overall increase in poisonings was among the youngest children—toddlers and preschoolers.

So what can parents do?

With all medications-but particularly opioids that are known to be especially dangerous for young children-prevention is key.

  • If you are currently using prescription painkillers, store them in a secure place. Count and monitor the number of pills you have and lock them up. Listen for the click when resealing the bottle, and put them in a safe place where they can’t be accessed by a curious child.
  • Get rid of prescription painkillers as soon as you are finished using them. Call your local poison center at 1-800-222-1222 for advice on drug disposal. You can also return leftover opioid prescriptions to a hospital, doctor’s office, or pharmacy.
  • Be aware of the symptoms of overdose and be prepared to offer first aid. Symptoms may include dizziness, fainting, vomiting, and difficult or ragged breathing. If you witness an overdose in progress, dial 9-1-1 or the poison center at 1-800-222-1222 immediately.
  • Talk to your child’s grandparents about keeping their medications secured. Our team in DPIC has seen that exposures are more likely in the homes of grandparents – many of whom are on multiple medications – who serve as babysitters for their grandchildren and haven’t fully child-proofed a home. Pill organizers are also potentially problematic because it involves removing the drugs from their child-resistant containers.

We recommend parents and family members put the Drug and Poison Information Center number 1-800-222-1222 in their cell phones and near every home phone for emergency situations. We are here 24-hours a day, 7-days a week, to answer your questions.

You can also text poison to 797979 and receive a vCard (electronic business card) that will automatically enter the number into your contact list of your phone free of charge.

By taking a few precautions, you can help keep you and your loved ones safe.

Sheila Goertemoeller PharmD, DABAT, ICPS, is a pharmacist, clinical toxicologist  and (drug abuse) prevention specialist with 23 years of experience on the Drug and Poison Information Center Hotline at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.