PHILADELPHIA – In an effort to decrease the number of accidental  deaths and near deaths in children due to drug ingestion, the Philadelphia Department of Human Services (DHS), in partnership with the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS)  and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health (PDPH) asks that parents/guardians keep opioids and all medicines locked away and out of reach of children.

Opioids should be stored in their original packaging and out of reach of children, locked away in a cabinet or a lockbox whenever possible. Opioids should not be stored in medicine cabinets or where other medicines are typically stored. The presence of substances, whether over the counter, legally prescribed, or illegal, present potential safety risks for families, particularly when there are young and mobile toddlers in the home. Death or a near fatal incident can result when a child has access to a substance, particularly when the substance is an opioid. 

Philadelphia’s Child Fatality and Near Fatality Team (known as the Act 33 Team) reviews death and near-death cases that are suspected to be as a result of child abuse or neglect, according to state law. A recent review of these cases found that more child drug ingestion related deaths and near deaths occurred in the first nine months of 2020 than in the full calendar years for 2018 and 2019. 

In order to keep these numbers low and prevent future deaths from happening a “Safe Medicine Storage” public health campaign has been launched to educate the community and encourage adults to follow safety precautions when using medications that could be harmful to children.

Guidance to the community includes:

  • Keep medicine, paraphernalia, and other hazardous materials up and away from children. If at all possible, in cabinets that can be locked or child-proofed with latches. If locks are not easily available, make sure they are placed inside cabinets and drawers and not out in the open. 
  • Make sure that the safety caps are locked after use. 
  • Always put medicine away after using them. 
  • Dispose of unused medicine.
  • Encourage caregivers to talk with children about what medicine is and that they should only take medicine when it’s given to them by an adult. 
  • Keep medicine in a safe place because children often mistake medicine for candy or juice. 
  • Tell children that medicine can help them if they are sick but that it can be harmful if they take it the wrong way or they take the wrong amount. 
  • Talk to caregivers about who is coming into their home. When babysitters, extended family, and friends come over, ask that they keep any medicine they may have out of the home or safely stored when visiting. 



DHS Commissioner Kimberly Ali

“An accidental child death or near death due to drug ingestion is an avoidable tragedy. We are seeing more ingestions this year than in previous years. This is an urgent issue and we have, together with our city partners, developed a strategy to help prevent these tragic accidents. We are sharing these prevention messages with our parents and caregivers, community based providers, stakeholders, and Social Work Staff. However, we also need your help.  We are asking that you also help educate families and communities to keep our children safe,” said DHS Commissioner Kimberly Ali. 

PDPH Commissioner Thomas Farley, M.D., M.P.H

“While the Health Department is combatting the overdose crisis throughout the city, it is not only people who use opioids that are in danger of those medicines. Children can and do accidentally ingest opioids improperly stored in medicine cabinets. By storing medicines away safely, we can keep children out of the hospital and safe.” PDPH Commissioner Thomas Farley, M.D., M.P.H, said. 

DBHIDS Acting Commissioner Jill Bowen, Ph.D.

“The Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS) and the City of Philadelphia have been fighting for years against the opioid crisis. But when it comes to keeping these potentially deadly substances out of the hands of children in a home environment, we need your help,” DBHIDS Acting Commissioner Jill Bowen, Ph.D., said. “Working together, we can protect young children from becoming another statistic. Please keep your home safe.”

Safe Medicine Storage Flyer

Safe Medicine Storage Tip Sheet