Toddler Poisoned by Prescriptions

Prescription bottles not child-proof.

December 17, 2010, 1:48 PM

Dec. 20, 2010— -- Homecomings are moments most military families spend whole deployments anticipating. But every homecoming day, Air Force Capt. Kevin Lombardo feels something missing.

"Today coming back home after six months, this is the third time I have come back since Chloe has died," Lombardo said, fighting back tears.

Five years ago, Lombardo's three-year old twins, Chloe and Kevin Jr., climbed onto a kitchen counter, reached into a high cabinet, and swallowed pills contained within a child-resistant prescription bottle.

"It happened so fast," said mother Billie Lombardo.

Like many parents, the Lombardos thought the prescription bottles were too difficult for their children to open. But containers that claim to be child-resistant don't necessarily mean it's child-proof.

In fact, children under age 5 make up most of the 100,000 Americans treated in the emergency room after accidently swallowing medications, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

And about 90 percent of child poisonings happen at home, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The poison can turn out to be any common household product children can get their hands on, according to Dr. Kevin Osterhoudt, emergency medicine pediatrician at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

"Children are curious by nature," said Osterhoudt. "The most common things are things they find in the home -- cosmetics, cleaning substances, but also our medicines and pharmaceuticals in the house."

And even though some parents may be vigilant about their own medications, grandparents and other holiday visitors may not be as careful.

"There have been some studies that suggest that as many as 10 to 20 percent of children's exposures to medicines may actually be exposures to their grandparents' medicines," said Osterhoudt, who called this occurrence the "granny effect."

Many Kids Can Get Into Child-Proof Bottles

ABC News' senior health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser tested three different types of medicine containers among six toddlers, to find out how fast they could open the containers.

All six of the kids were able to break into the flip-top medicine containers -- some kids only took 10 seconds to open them. Four out of the six kids got into the easy-open bottles in less than 30 seconds.

"These are medicine bottles, and if you find one at home what are you supposed to do?" Dr. Besser asked the toddlers.

None of the six were able to open the child resistant prescription bottles, however. But that doesn't mean it can't be done.

"Chloe came in and said, 'Mommy, I sick'," said Billie Lombardo. Chloe was able to twist open the so-called protective bottle.

"I noticed on the side of my bed an open bottle of pills," said Lombardo.

The twins were rushed to the hospital and fell into a coma. Two days later, Kevin Jr. seemed to be feeling better. Kevin Lombardo was deployed to Baghdad and ordered to return home.

"I just wanted to try to get home, and unfortunately I didn't make it in time," said Kevin Lombardo. "We were never going to be a normal family again."

Chloe died from an overdose just 45 minutes before her father arrived.

Kevin Jr., now 8 years old, along with the family's three other children, now know the dangers of medication. Although the Lombardo children are now grown, the family has kept their medication in a locked box ever since this incident. But the memories of Chloe are still preserved throughout the house. Her stocking still hangs and her birthday is still celebrated -- a way of coping with the "new normal," said Kevin Lombardo.

"One thing I always hear is, 'That's not going to happen to me.' I'll tell you what. It happened to us," he said.

Beyond child-proof bottles, there are a few things you can do to discourage your kids from getting their hands on potentially dangerous medication:

Get more tips for keeping your children safe on Dr. Besser's Twitter feed: @DrRichardBesser.

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