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Reporting a Medication Error

Nicotine-Replacement Therapy Can Be Dangerous to Young Children

Published October 16, 2023

Nicotine-replacement therapy (NRT) is available as an over-the-counter (OTC) medicine to help people quit smoking. These products are available in various forms such as patches that are applied to the skin or lozenges and gum that are taken by mouth. Unlike most OTC medicines, these products do not come in child-resistant packaging.

An example of a container of Nicorette mint-flavored lozenges. The medicine comes in a plastic container with a flip top similar to ones that also hold candies and mints.

NRT can be dangerous to young children. The lozenges are very similar in size and shape to candy breath mints, and the gum is very similar to flavored chewing gum. People who use these products often carry them within a child’s reach, such as in their purse, car, or desk drawer, or leave them out on the counter. Overdoses of these products can cause an irregular heartbeat, breathing difficulties, and, in some cases, death, especially in children.

Although these products have been available for many years, parents may not be aware of the risks to children. Here are a few cases that have been published in the news over the years:

Here’s what you can do: To prevent children from being exposed to nicotine-replacement medicines, please review the following recommendations.

  • Don’t refer to nicotine-replacement medicines as candy.
  • Don’t call nicotine patches or other medicine patches Band-Aids, stickers, or tattoos.
  • Keep all nicotine-replacement products up and away and out of reach of children (www.upandaway.org).
  • Buy products that have child resistant packaging and use it. Remember, child-resistant does not mean child-proof.
  • Secure purses and suitcases that may contain nicotine-replacement medicine. Be aware of products that visitors may bring into your home.
  • Don’t leave any medicine unattended while answering the door or phone.
  • Avoid taking medicine in the presence of children.
  • Avoid throwing unused nicotine-replacement products or other medicines out in open trashcans in the kitchen or bathroom, within reach of a child.
  • Teach children never to take medicine unless an adult gives it to them. Many poisons look like food or drinks. They should ask an adult before taking candy, food, and drinks from other children.
  • If you suspect your child took a nicotine-replacement product or other medicine, immediately call 800-222-1222 to reach a Poison Control. If your child has collapsed or is not breathing, dial 911 first.

To learn more about what you can do to prevent poisonings, please visit:  www.poison.org.

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