Life-saving spring cleaning tips

Steps to reduce risk of overdoses, poisoning


As we welcome spring, now is the time to clean out and secure your harmful substances from your home. Items such as alcohol, medications, cleaning solutions and chemicals can be extremely harmful if misused. Accidental overdoses are on the rise, and most of them are preventable. Common substances involved in overdoses or poisoning include prescription or over-the-counter medications, alcoholic beverages, soaps, detergents and cleaning solutions

Alcohol and medications

Accidental overdoses of alcohol and medications are on the rise, especially for children and teenagers. About 160 children go to a hospital emergency room every day as a result of accidental medicine overdoses, according Safe Kids Worldwide.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 60,000 young children were seen in emergency rooms across the country in 2013 after ingesting pain relievers, prescription drugs or vitamins that adults left either on the ground, in cabinets, in pill organizers, in a purse or diaper bag, or on countertops where children were able to reach the medication.

Much of this has to do with the lack of safeguarding or maintenance of these substances. Unsecured cabinets are often filled with outdated unused medications.

According to the CDC, only one in five Americans locks up prescription drugs, and it’s not surprising to hear that thousands of children are treated for accidental medication overdoses each year. Many hang on to unused drugs until they’re used up, increasing the odds for an overdose or poisoning.

Acetaminophen, used as a fever and pain-reducer and found in Tylenol and hundreds of other products, is the most common accidentally ingested over-the-counter drug; a child who takes too much acetaminophen can develop liver damage or liver failure.

Nearly one in five teens report abusing medications that were not prescribed, and the number one location where teens acquire these drugs is from the home medicine cabinets of family and friends. The most widely abused drugs include painkillers, ADHD and anti-anxiety medications, sleeping pills and cough syrup.

Similarly, when it comes to alcohol overdoses in children and teens, the source if typically from unsecured cabinets and shelves. Teens often target old or rarely used bottles so that it would go unnoticed.

Throw out expired medications. Properly lock and inventory household medications, including prescription, over the counter or vitamins. Make sure they are out of reach for children. Children can easily mistake pills or syrups as candy because of their shapes, packaging and flavoring.

Medication shouldn’t be flushed down toilets because trace amounts of drugs can end up in the water supply. For proper disposal, there are drop offs at the police station.

Make sure Alcohol is not easily accessible. Lock the cabinets and clean out any old or rarely used bottles. Make it a priority to educate teens on the dangers of alcohol use.  

Household items: soap, detergents and cleaners

Accidental poisoning in small children is on the rise. Packaging and labels are now softer and more accessible. If ingested, items like Laundry soap-pods or hand sanitizer could be extremely harmful. Make sure under sink cabinets are locked and laundry rooms are off limits to unattended children. Sweet-smelling e-cigarette nicotine can be deadly if swallowed by a child. A child can swallow small button batteries if confused with candy. These items should be properly stored out of reach and disposed of when finished with. Throw out old or rarely used detergents and chemicals.

With the proper spring cleaning and safeguarding, many of these emergencies are preventable. Let’s make sure they are used and stored properly.

Lt. Sam Pinto is a career firefighter, paramedic, nationally certified fire instructor, and certified fire and life safety educator. He can be reached at