Almost 12,000 children under the age of 5 are poisoned by opioids in the U.S. annually. And a New Jersey expert says it is totally preventable.

Dr. Bruce Ruck of The New Jersey Poison Information and Education System said while his group does not have any hard numbers for ingestions in New Jersey, it gets several frantic calls each week from parents of little kids who have accidentally ingested some type of opioid.

He says this is a very dangerous situation: "A child can fall into a deep sleep, to become unconscious, obviously, and stop breathing and die."

"The majority of them are prescription, whether somebody gets them from their physician in a prescription, or somebody bought them on the street and has them laying around the house," Ruck said. "It is not really our role to determine. Our major role is to make sure that the child who takes it is taken care of as fast as possible, so they do not end up with any major medical problems."

Ruck says this type of child opioid poisoning is totally preventable.

"If everybody started to get rid of their unwanted and unused medication, keep what they have locked up in a locked cabinet, up high and away, we would probably see a lot less exposure, especially in the little children who are accidentally getting into these," Ruck said. "Even one child getting exposed is one child too many."

He says if a child is not breathing, call 911. The New Jersey Poison Information and Education System is also always available at 800-222-1222.

Joe Cutter is the afternoon news anchor on New Jersey 101.5

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