U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

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Poison Help 1-800-222-1222 [logo]

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1-800-222-1222

When accidents happen with chemicals, medicine, or household items, call Poison Help. Get help right away from a local poison expert.

If someone is unconscious or has trouble breathing, call 911.

What Can You Do?

Older Adult Tips

Older adults often use more medications as they age. It is important to read labels and warnings, and not mix up medications. Older adults should always have the toll-free Poison Help line (1-800-222-1222) available to call in case of an emergency, which connects you to your local poison center. 

Here are some tips to identify poisons you may have in your home. Find tips on safe medicine use and poison prevention tips in the Caregivers Brochure (PDF - 1.9 MB).

Prescription drugs

  • Make sure you have the correct medicines and they are clearly labeled. Follow the label's instructions, including dosage. Some medicines are to be taken at different times, so make sure to review the instructions every time you take it. Look for capsules or tablets that differ from others in the container.
  • Review all your medicines (including food supplements such as vitamins, minerals, or herbs) with your doctor or pharmacist at least once a year or when you start taking a new drug.
  • Never take medicine in the dark. Turn on a light and make sure you take the right medicine and right dose described on the label. If you need glasses to read, wear them when taking medicine.
  • Never take other people's prescription drugs. Take only drugs that are prescribed for you.

Over-the-counter drugs

  • Know what types of over-the-counter drugs to avoid taking with your prescription drugs. When in doubt, ask your pharmacist or doctor before using an over-the-counter drug. Call the Poison Help line at 1-800-222-1222, which connects you to your local poison center, if you have any additional questions.
  • Common over-the-counter drugs that can cause problems when taken with other drugs include pain medicine, laxatives, cold medicines, and antacids.
  • Compare the active ingredients in medicines before taking two over-the-counter drugs together. Many drugs contain the same active ingredient. You can easily take more than is safe without knowing it.
  • Get rid of medicines that have expired or are no longer needed. Ask your local pharmacist how you can return unused, unneeded, or expired prescription drugs to pharmaceutical take-back locations or you local poison center for safe disposal.

Understanding labels

To prevent problems, start by reading the labels of all prescription and over-the-counter drugs you take. Reading the label will tell you:

  • What the medicine is for (indications)
  • How to take the medicine (directions)
  • What is in the medicine (contents, or active and inactive ingredients)
  • What the unusual effects are (warnings)
  • What activities you should not do while taking the drug (precautions)

When grandchildren visit

  • When children visit your home, keep all medicines and household cleaning products locked up and out of reach.
  • Avoid taking medicine in front of young children. They like to do what adults do.
  • Give infants and children only medicines that are safe for their age and weight. The label will tell you what the correct dose is.
  • Choose products in containers that are hard for children to open. Replace caps tightly after use. Remember that no container can promise to keep children out.
  • Call medicine by its proper name. Never call medicine candy.
  • Protect children from poisonous household plants. Keep such plants out of reach.