More children are coming to the emergency room after accidentally overdosing on medication, according to a study from the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

The Centers for Disease Control attributes more than 70,000 emergency room visits each year to accidental child overdoses, and the number is increasing at an alarming rate. In response, the CDC launched an initiative called PROTECT, in which public health agencies, private companies, professional organizations, health advocates and academic experts work together to prevent accidental overdoses.  

More children are exposed, more are seen in emergency departments, more are admitted to hospitals and more are harmed, Randall Bond, the medical director of the Drug and Poison Information Center at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and the lead author of the study, said, as quoted in Medical News Today. The problem of pediatric medication poisoning is getting worse, not better.

Every year, more than 500,000 children under age 5 accidentally take prescription medications, and more than 50,000 of them end up in the emergency room, according to Medscape Medical News. Annual child-related calls to poison control centers decreased from 1990 to 2000 but increased between then and 2008.

Bond and his colleagues compiled data from more than 450,000 patient records in the National Poison Data system from 2001-2008, according to Medical News Today. Prescription medication overdoses accounted for 55 percent of emergency room visits, 76 percent of hospital admissions and 71 percent of significant harm. The medications on which children most frequently overdosed were opioid painkillers, sedatives and cardiovascular drugs.

Bond -- who plans to present the study's findings at a PROTECT Initiative meeting at CDC headquarters in Atlanta on Sept. 20 -- attributed the increase mainly to more children finding and swallowing pills while unsupervised, not to parents or other caregivers administering medication improperly. This means the problem could be addressed very effectively by designing better child-proof medication containers.

It's not so much the drugs as bad habits and the packaging the drugs come in, pharmacist Dennis Bryan, who was not involved with the study, told Medscape Medical News. We haven't changed the safety bottles since they first came out 20 years ago. Children have gotten smarter since then.

His advice to parents and caregivers was simple: Location, location, location. Find a spot where you can store medications and keep them there. Maybe physicians can try to educate a patient who they know has kids at home. They can say, 'There are a lot of problems with this medication. Be a little astute about what you do with it.'