Left Chevron
Left Chevron
Reporting a Medication Error

Steps Parents Can Take to Help Their Child Safely Get Their Medicines at Camp

Published June 3, 2024

Going to camp can be fun and exciting for children. It is a time for them to explore, grow, and even learn something new. If it is an overnight camp, it may be the first time they will be in a new place without their parents. While camp is a break from their usual day-to-day activities, it is important to talk with your child’s doctor to create a medicine plan for the summer. Sharing this plan, and your child’s full medical history with the camp health services team, will enable your child to have the best camp experience.

According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), around 18% of children (11 years and younger) and 27% of adolescents (12 to 19 years old) take prescription medicines.1 This may include medicine used to treat a new sickness (e.g., infection), or a long-term condition (e.g., asthma, diabetes, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder [ADHD]). While camp healthcare providers and staff are there to make sure the campers stay safe and well, there may be certain situations that make this difficult.

Unlabeled or Repackaged Medicine

When medicines are brought to the camp without a label or not in the original container, this can lead to errors. The following is an example:

A 13-year-old camper with ADHD suddenly stopped responding to his methylphenidate (Ritalin). He began to develop new symptoms and ended up in the emergency department (ED). The camp nurse had not been at camp the week before this happened. A camp staff member gave the campers their medicine while the nurse was away. For 3 days, the 13-year-old accidentally received another camper’s medicine, methadone, a powerful pain medicine with serious side effects. All of the medicines for campers were kept in envelopes with only the generic drug name (i.e., methylphenidate and methadone) handwritten on the outside. The envelopes did not include the camper’s name. Since both medicines start with m-e-t-h, the staff member easily confused them.

For medicines like inhalers (to treat asthma), this can also cause confusion if the prescription label (e.g., camper’s name, drug name, how to take) is not attached to the medicine. Inhalers are often provided in their original carton (box) from the pharmacy. The prescription label is often placed on the box, not the actual inhaler device that contains the medicine.

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Medicines

The camp may also have rules about other types of medicines (e.g., OTC, vitamins, supplements) campers can bring with them. Make sure that you know what those rules are so that you can comply, and your child can get the medicine they need. OTC medicines, such as cough and cold medicine, should never be taken without a camp staff member’s knowledge. This is important to prevent issues such as interactions with other medicine or taking too much medicine when treating themselves.

Here’s what you can do: If your child needs to take medicine while at camp, here are some steps that can be taken to help avoid mistakes:

Preparing for Camp

  • Talk with your child’s doctor about a medicine plan for the summer.
  • Ask the camp about the rules around taking medicines. Ask about both prescription and OTC medicines.
  • Find out who will be giving the medicine to your child and how and where the medicine is stored.
  • Give your child’s complete medical history and full medicine list to the camp staff. This should include any medicine patches that your child uses or any medicine pumps (e.g., insulin pump) that are in place, even if the camp staff will not be administering that medicine or interacting with that device. Include OTC medicines your child may need to use and which ones you prefer in case the camp provides them (e.g., acetaminophen, Benadryl). Be sure to list any medicine your child cannot take and if they have an allergy to any medicines.
  • Keep medicines in their original containers to make sure the camp staff can organize and identify the medicines for your child. Remember, camp staff will only be able to administer medicines that are in their original containers.
    • For prescription medicines:
      • Send only the amount of medicine needed while they are at camp. Ask your pharmacy to divide your child’s prescription into more than one container, each with its own label. For example, if your child takes one tablet of medicine a day and will be at camp for two weeks, the container you provide to the camp should only contain 14 tablets. The remaining doses should be kept at home. All medicine, stored at camp or at home, should be stored in the original container.
      • Check if the camp requires medicines to be packaged in individual dose packets. If so, the camp may know of a local pharmacy that can provide individual dose packet services for your child.
      • Double check the prescription bottle or dose packets to make sure they have your child’s name. Do not put the proper number of doses in an old prescription bottle to give to the camp. The information and expiration date may be wrong.
    • For OTC medicines, vitamins, and supplements, write your child’s name on the container without covering important information. Make sure the label instructions match how your child takes the medicine. If your child takes the medicine differently than what is printed on the label, you will likely need a note from your child’s doctor with specific instructions.

Preparing Your Child

  • Help your child understand the basic information about the medicines they take. Younger children should know what the medicine looks like (e.g., a white round tablet, a blue liquid). Older children should know the name of each medicine, the dose, when and how it should be taken, and why it is taken, side effects, and if they should avoid any food or drinks when taking it. Ideally, this information should be written down and the child should carry that information with them.
  • If your child thinks something is wrong with the medicine they are going to be given, tell them to ask the person administering it to call you.
  • Teach children to never share their medicine with others or take medicine from another child. This includes prescription and OTC medicines, even gummy vitamins and supplements.
  • Tell your child that they may need to be weighed at camp before taking certain medicines.  

Bringing the Medicines to Camp

  • Make sure to share your child’s medical history and summer medicine plan with the camp healthcare team.
  • Fill out any camp forms about medicines that can be administered to your child. Give as much information as possible, including allergies, how your child should take the medicine (i.e., with food), and if there are any side effects they should expect.
  • Make sure all your child’s medicines are given to a camp staff member who is authorized to handle the medicines, so they are kept safe.
  • Consider including a recent photo of your child with their medicines to make it easier for staff to recognize that they are giving the right medicine to your child.
  • If providing a medicine device, such as an asthma inhaler or epinephrine pen (EpiPen), make sure you provide instructions on how to use the device. Written instructions or demonstrating how to use the device may be helpful. Be sure that the device itself has your child’s name on it (and not just a label on the box that the device comes in).

For more information, listen to Medication Safety at Summer Camps, a Smart Healthcare Safety Podcast produced by our affiliate, ECRI.

As a quick reference, please view our other post on the Top 10 Tips for Medicine Safety at Camp.


1.     Martin C B, Hales CM, Gu Q, Ogden C L. Prescription Drug Use in the United States, 2015–2016. No. 334. National Center for Health Statistics, US Dept of Health and Human Services; 2019.

More Safety Articles