Operators at the University of Kansas Hospital's Poison Control Center receive more than 100 calls every day. Many are made by frantic parents asking for help after a child discovers and then swallows medicine.
Jennifer Grogan, a Topeka mother of four boys, had to dial that number earlier this year when 2-year-old Gunner got into his father's thyroid medication.
"He gets everywhere. He's a monkey," Grogan said.
Gunner had figured out how to scale a row of kitchen drawer pulls, like a ladder, climbed up onto the counter where Grogan kept her husband's day-of-the-week pill organizer and helped himself.
"My 5-year-old, Brody, came in and he was like, 'Mom! Mom! Gunner ate one of Daddy's pills,'" Grogan said. "I panicked and I was like, 'Oh my gosh!'"
Grogan's panic was quickly quashed by the experts at poison control. Once they learned Gunner had swallowed just one of his father's synthroid pills, the advice was simple. They were told to have him drink plenty of water and prepare for one very hyper-active day as the metabolism-boosting medication went through his system.
The experience was enough to change how the Grogans use and store medicine at home.
Those new measures did not include switching from an easy-to-open pill organizer to a bottle with a safety cap.
"These are not child-proof and that terminology is used quite often. They're child-resistant and kids will learn and figure them out," said Daling McMoran, education coordinator for the University of Kansas Hospital Poison Control Center.
McMoran urges parents across the metro to stop relying on child-resistant bottles as enough protection.
Proof of that message came during a KCTV5 experiment at the Mini-Masters Learning Academy in Topeka.
Under the Poisons Prevention Packaging Act (PPPA), if 20 percent or fewer children can open a bottle with a safety cap within a two-part, 10-minute trial, the bottle is deemed child-resistant.
With permission from their parents, KCTV5 conducted that test with 16 students from Mini-Masters. A variety of bottles, containing harmless but enticing jelly beans were placed in front of the kids ages 3 through 5.
Without any instruction, 5-year-old Xander opened the first of many bottles in just 15 seconds.
Haylee, 3, followed a mere five seconds later. When the first five-minute period ended, six of the 16 children, or 37.5 percent, had successfully opened almost all of the bottles.
The second part of the test started with a teacher showing the students, just once, how to open each kind of bottle.
Experts, like McMoran, say this is something children are likely to have already seen at home.
"Oftentimes as parents, we'll pull this medication out and we'll actually open it in front of them. And they're curious," McMoran said. "They study it. They'll see us doing it and before you know it, they'll get a hold of it and they can end up opening it themselves."
With another five minutes on the clock and the teacher's words fresh in their minds, the children opened even more bottles with safety caps. At the end of the 10 minutes, 10 of the 16 children, more than 62 percent, were successful. And when one boy figured out how to get into a certain container, he was eager to share the information with classmates.
"There wasn't a bottle on that table that wouldn't have gotten opened over a period of time when parents don't know it," McMoran said.
These results reaffirmed McMoran's message that child-resistant caps offer only one thin layer of protection against accidental poisonings. The best thing to do, he says, is to keep all pill bottles and medications completely out of sight. Make them invisible.
"Do not let the kids see where you are hiding it," McMoran said. "If you have to get medication out for yourself or the child, don't do it in front of the child. Always get it out when the child is sleeping, getting ready or they're in another room doing something. Then you pull it out. You get the medicine out; put it (back) up. Then you talk to the child about what you're giving them. Explain to them, 'It's medicine. You only take it from more or dad or maybe a doctor or a nurse.'"
That was exactly what the Grogan family does now. All of their medicine is stored up high and away from Gunner's curious gaze.
The high point of the experiment for McMoran was seeing how the children behaved after they pried open those bottles.
No one ate any of the jelly beans put inside. In fact, the children were overheard warning each other not to eat them, and that even though they looked like candy, those jelly beans might actually be medicine and could be dangerous.
If anyone suspects their child has ingested something dangerous, they should call the Kansas University Hospital Poison Control Center's free hotline at (800) 222-1222.
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