By Sue Breding

Michelle Ruha remembers the feeling. It was equal parts shock, fear and guilt.

She walked into her daughter’s bedroom to see her 3-year-old eating flavored children’s ibuprofen tablets. Ruha had left the pill bottle open on the counter in her little girl’s bathroom.

“Luckily the dose she was exposed to was not dangerous, but it opened my eyes to how quickly a poison emergency can occur,” says Ruha.

Ruha is a doctor, a fellow of the American College of Medical Toxicology and a toxicologist with Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center’s Poison and Drug Information Center, a national leader in poison care and prevention. “One of the things I have learned as a parent is that no one is immune to their child getting into a poison, not even a medical toxicologist,” she affirms.

A new risk for young children is nicotine exposure from drinking out of containers intended for refilling electronic cigarettes (e-cigs). In the last year, 13 of the calls were about children under 4 years old who ingested e-cig liquid.

“Many e-cigs come with refills that aren’t in child-proof containers,” says Dr. Frank LoVecchio, co-director of the Banner Poison Center. “The refills are typically very tasty, with flavors such as chocolate and vanilla.”

In addition to e-cigs, LoVecchio says they receive a lot of calls about the newer forms of laundry detergent that come in small pods, which look like candy, are highly concentrated, very dangerous and have killed children who ingested them.

“In general children are different than adults with regard to the metabolism of drugs and toxins,” LoVecchio says. “For example, it is rare to have an adult require intubation or antivenins following a scorpion envenomation; these interventions are relatively common in toddlers.”

He says a dose of medication in an adult that may control blood pressure or diabetes may lead to death in a child.

LoVecchio is a father of two. One of his kids will be a teenager in a couple of years and he often speaks to community groups about dangers with teens and the newest drugs of abuse.

He and his colleagues warn that a growing poisoning risk for teens is synthetic cannabinoids (marijuana) or “spice,” which is often used as a legal alternative to marijuana. Teens may experiment with spice but do not understand its ingredients are continually changing and are often much more dangerous than marijuana. Teens are routinely admitted with seizures and other serious consequences from the use of marijuana alternatives.

All children and teens living in Arizona should learn about the poisoning risks that come with living in the desert Southwest. When playing outdoors they should wear shoes to help protect from snakebites and scorpion stings, and they should never pick up a snake, even if they don’t see a rattle.

“I sympathize with the parents who are extremely distraught that their child’s health or life has been threatened by a poison exposure,” Ruha says. “I urge parents to remember they should never use a beverage container to store a poisonous product, keep medicines, cosmetics and cleaning products secure, and keep a close eye on your child at all times.”n

Common products that cause kids 
and teens to go the hospital include:
• Laundry pods
• Magnetic balls
• Button batteries
• Drain cleaners-corrosives
• Liquid candles, gasoline and 
• Prescription medicines such as narcotics, diabetic medicines, ADHD medications, heart and blood pressure medicines


About Banner Good Samaritan Poison and Drug Information Center: Thousands of parents have avoided a trip to the emergency room or saved a life by calling Banner’s poison hotline 800.222.1222, which has served Arizona for more than 30 years. The center provides a free, 24-hour emergency telephone service for both residents and medical professionals of Maricopa County. For more information, visit