Last year, doctors wrote more than 160 million prescriptions for painkillers like oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone. That’s more pain relief prescribed than at any other time in history! According to a new report we found on MSNBC, it’s having deadly consequences on our kids! A recent study found that accidental exposure to these pain pills – known as opioids – is on the rise among toddlers under the age of 6. By “exposure,” we mean everything from a child having a pill quickly snatched out of their mouth to them swallowing a pill entirely!

Once a pill’s ingested, the effects set-in immediately because the strong medication in opioids is intended for full-grown adults. Since opioids work by slowing respiration, all it takes is one 60-milligram tablet to stop a small child from breathing! Fortunately, only a handful of kids have died from ingesting pain pills, but many others suffer severe brain damage, or other life-threatening injuries. All those near-misses have helped make prescription drugs the #2 cause of child poisonings, second only to carbon monoxide poisoning!

So, how are kids getting their hands on these drugs? Dr. Richard C. Dart, medical director for the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center in Denver, Colorado, says about half the cases of accidental opiate exposure occur in what he calls “complicated” households – where children live with adults who have a history of drug abuse. In fact, federal officials estimate there are more than five million people aged 12 or older using prescription painkillers illegally – for non-medical purposes. Regardless of whether or not the prescription is legal, children are at risk by simply having pills in the house.

Dr. Dart reminds us that the “child proof” caps on medication bottles only slow kids down, they don’t stop them completely. So all a child needs is to see grandma’s pill bottle sitting on a counter – or sticking out from a purse – and they might be curious enough to try one. In other words, the best way to protect your children is to keep medication stored in a locked cabinet, or in a high cupboard that’s well out of reach of a toddler’s hand. While that rule applies to all medication, it’s especially important if you have painkillers in the house.