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Are child-resistant caps really kid proof?

11:47 PM, Feb 22, 2013   |    comments
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MINNEAPOLIS -- It's as fundamental a fear as any for parents of small children -- your child gets into a bottle of medicine.

According to the Minnesota Poison Control System, it's a fear that is founded in a familiar fact.

"At least every day, there's some child that's accessed a child-resistant cap," said Kirk Hughes, the Education Director for Minnesota Poison Control.

Hughes said people simply don't realize that medicine bottles -- from prescription, to over-the-counter, to herbal remedies -- don't come with a "childproof" guarantee.

"We can't believe that these are childproof. They're child-resistant. They're meant to deter children for a period of time," Hughes said.

Simply put, manufacturers need only adhere to international standards that stipulate only a certain percentage of children will be able to access a bottle within a set amount of time.

According to the current standard, if 20 percent or less of children can access a bottle within the course of a 10 minute trial, that bottle is child-resistant. Translation? If given enough time and persistence, a child will be able to open most any medicine bottle.


KARE 11 decided to put that theory to the test at the Kinderberry Hill Child Development Center in downtown Minneapolis. In order to conduct our trial, we consulted officials with Minnesota Poison Control, who in turn, gave us guidelines based on international testing standards.

We divided our group of 12 children, ages 2 to 5, into three groups, according to age. We then presented the children with four bottles: two prescription pill bottles from two different pharmacies; one over-the-counter pill bottle; and one over-the-counter liquid bottle.

The children were given five minutes to attempt to open the bottles themselves. At the end of those five minutes, the children's teacher demonstrated how to open the bottles. The children then had an additional five minutes to do it themselves.

There was one catch to the trial. Officials felt the children would need an incentive to try and open them -- just as they would if they felt "candy" or a colorful pill was inside -- so on the advice of Minnesota Poison Control, we also placed a bell in each bottle.

In each of the three groups, the children at first treated the bottles like musical instruments. With time, the kids turned their attention to trying to open the bottles -- some by simply trying to "muscle" the bottles open -- others by asking time and time again for help.

As for the results, only two children managed to open any bottles in the first five minutes and those were the liquid medicine bottles. After all 10 minutes passed, the 12 kids together managed to open six over-the-counter liquid medicine bottles and four prescription pill bottles.

Kirk Hughes says those findings are consistent with what international studies have also concluded.

"I think this is a really good wake-up call for a lot of people to really understand that kids can access this stuff. They can get into it. And it's not childproof," Hughes said.


One Mankato mother more than agrees with Hughes' position.

"I was really scared," said Megan Schultz as she recalled the day her then 13-month-old daughter, Olivia, managed to get into her medication.

"She grabbed my purse and the next thing I know, there were Adderall pills all over the floor," Megan said.

Megan soon realized her daughter had, in fact, swallowed some of her medication, a prescription amphetamine taken by adults struggling with ADHD. The family soon rushed Olivia to the hospital, where they discovered their daughter would survive - she just wouldn't sleep, for days.

"My husband and I kind of switched off for about two and a half days, until she finally slept," Megan said. "I was really scared. I kept thinking, oh my gosh, is my baby going to go into cardiac arrest."

"If she had gotten into anything else, it would've been fatal. And that is so scary," Megan added.


Officials say Megan is hardly alone when it comes to experiencing a close call.

"Until it happens to you, you can think, oh, it's not that big a deal. But it's a daily occurrence here," Hughes said.

That's why health officials have simple, important advice they recommend every parent follow:

  1. Keep your medication far from the reach of children - even locked up, if possible.
  2. Never take medication in front of your children, given their desire to "mimic" their role models.
  3. Do not assume that "child-resistant" is "childproof." With time, children can gain access to medication that can cause serious illness, even death.

For more information about these recommendations, or, if you ever have a concern that your child may have accidentally consumed medication, you can call the Northern Ohio Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.  If your child is experiencing a seizure, cannot breathe or is unresponsive, you should instead immediately call 911.


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