In 2013, investigative journalism outfit ProPublica reported on the crusade of Dr. Daniel Budnitz, who wanted to save children from fatal medication poisoning. Dr. Budnitz is a scientist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and he believed a new plastic closure called a flow restrictor could stop kids from accidentally swallowing toxic amounts of medications like acetaminophen.
Budnitz isn’t just a professional epidemiologist; he’s also a father. When he discovered that 74,000 kids like his end up in the emergency room each year from such poisonings, he made it his personal mission to reduce such drug overdoses. Because even more troubling, ProPublica revealed internal documents from Food and Drug Administration scientists who had been advocating behind-the-scenes for the devices since 2001.
And this August, after years of work, the FDA officially endorsed the use of the child-safe plastic closures for all liquid medications containing acetaminophen. Although the endorsement isn’t a requirement for manufacturers, Dr. Budnitz and ProPublica say it’s a “strong signal” to those manufacturers that such flow restrictors are a crucial safety feature.
U.S. custom blow molding company Comar patented one of the first flow restrictors adopted by McNeil Consumer Healthcare, which makes Tylenol for Johnson and Johnson.
After the initial reporting on flow restrictors, some major manufacturers, like McNeil, voluntarily adopted the restrictors for certain liquid medicines. Budnitz hopes that more companies will now answer his call to use the child-safe plastic packaging on all types of potentially harmful liquid medicines. And not only are more flow restrictors on their way to drug store shelves, but the more companies adopt the technology, the more it will improve. Already, Budnitz is working with Consumer Reports, government agencies, and manufacturers to design standardized safety tests for various types of flow restrictors.
Still, safety experts say no child-resistant packaging is foolproof, and ultimately parents need to take precautions with all chemicals and medicines in their home. Even with such devices in place, parents should still store medicine out of reach and carefully measure the appropriate dosages.
“It’s incremental progress, but it definitely is progress,” Budnitz said.