Bereaved parents are passionate advocates
BY AMBER SMITH
Adam and MaryBeth Gillan of Rochester lost their daughter Maisie in January 2019 after the 9-month-old swallowed a pill that had fallen on the floor of a neighbor’s home.
They share their tragedy in an effort to help improve medication safety.
“We just really do not want to have this happen to anyone else,” MaryBeth Gillan says.
The family, settling into a new home, had accepted a neighbor’s invitation to dinner. Maisie spent most of the night in her mother’s arms, except for a few minutes when she was on the kitchen floor, surrounded by six adults. It was past Maisie’s and her older sister Rhona’s bedtime when the Gillans walked back to their home, with Maisie drifting asleep in MaryBeth Gillan’s arms. Her parents slipped her into her pajamas and her crib for the night.
Maisie did not awaken.
Weeks later, police informed her parents she had died from an overdose of methadone. They didn’t know what that was. They couldn’t figure where Maisie would have gotten it.
The police investigation determined an elderly family member of the neighbor had a methadone prescription and must have dropped a pill on the kitchen floor.
“The pill itself is very small,” says Adam Gillan, “so it would have been tough to see a white pill on a kitchen floor.”
Unintentional poisonings are a significant problem in the United States, says Jeanna Marraffa, PharmD, the assistant clinical director of the Upstate New York Poison Center, which is located at Upstate Medical University. She says more than 900,000 calls to poison centers across the nation each year are regarding children under age 6 who have been exposed to medications or other substances that can be toxic.
“A lot of medications, even medications that are available over the counter, can be quite toxic and even deadly in a child in very, very small doses,” Marraffa says.
Methadone is an opioid pain reliever similar to morphine and is used for pain control as well as medication-assisted treatment for patients with opioid use disorder. One pill can be deadly to a small child. Other medications such as those used for heart conditions, high blood pressure or antidepressants can also be deadly in a single dose to a small child.
Marraffa says research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicated that in more than 40 percent of child medication poisonings, inappropriate storage or removal from its original packaging was the reason. One way to help keep children safe is to keep medication in its original packaging.
How to protect children from medication poisoning
- Keep medicines in their original packaging. Children are at risk as soon as a medication is taken from its bottle to be put in a pill minder or a case for travel.
- Store medicines up and away, in a safe place, out of the reach of children. And don’t assume your child cannot open a child-resistant container.
- Consider a lock box, especially if your home includes children or adolescents. Combination and key lock varieties are available.
- Make sure purses and bags (your own and any guest’s) that may contain medications are kept out of the reach of kids at all times.
- Ask your pharmacist if your medication is available in unit dose packaging.
- Teach children that medicines can be dangerous and never refer to pills as “candy.”
- Take your medicines over a sink, so you will notice if you drop a pill. And, if you drop a pill on the floor and cannot find it, vacuum thoroughly.
- Turn on a light to take medicines at night, so you can make sure you dispense the right amount of the right medication.
- Dispose of unused or expired medications. Ask whether your pharmacy will take them. Or, mix the pills with kitty litter or coffee grounds in a plastic bag and throw them out with household trash.
- Before spending time at a relative’s or friend’s house, ask how their medications are stored.
Sources: Upstate New York Poison Center, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Kidshealth.org