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Deaths drop after child-proof bottles introduced

by Communications Staff | May 6, 2014


An idea of Western alumnus Henri J. Breault, MD’36, saved countless unnamed children in Ontario and around the world from accidental poisoning.

Dr. Henri Breault was born in Tecumseh, Ontario in 1909 and received his M.D. from Western University in 1936. An internship at the Hotel Dieu Hospital in Windsor gave Dr. Breault a strong foundation in pediatrics, which he applied to a 41-year practice in Windsor, and particularly to a comprehensive campaign to prevent accidental childhood poisonings. In 1957, Dr. Breault became Chief of Pediatrics and Director of a new Poison Control Centre at the Hotel Dieu Hospital, where he daily faced cases of children poisoned by medicines or other “hazardous products” found in the home, especially the aspirin bottles which could be easily opened.

There were some 1,000 cases and at least one death each year in Windsor from such poisonings, but no one had tried to do something about this worsening situation. After an aggressive public education program failed to lower the incidence, Dr. Breault focused instead on prevention and protection by facilitating the development of the first child-proof container. In 1962, he established the Ontario Association for the Control of Accidental Poisoning and then forged an alliance between local physicians and pharmacists to get the job done. Peter Hedgewick, President of ITL Industries, in Windsor was enlisted by Dr. Breault to create the first child-resistant safety cap for prescription bottles. It was developed and adopted in the Windsor area in 1967.

The incidence of child poisonings quickly dropped by 91 per cent. The Ontario College of Pharmacy endorsed the new cap and it was soon in use across the province. The “Palm-N-Turn” technology, which is still being used today, requires users to push down while turning.

pill bottle

By 1974, Ontario had made the use of child-resistant packaging mandatory for certain products. Similar regulations were quickly adopted internationally. Dr. Breault’s child-proof container idea has saved countless children from death or serious injury from accidental poisonings. Indeed, as one enthusiastic health official put it: “The Child-Resistant Container is to childhood poisonings what the Salk vaccine is to polio.” Dr. Breault died in 1983. In honour of his career, the Hotel Dieu Hospital in Windsor established the “Henri J. Breault Pediatrics Centre”.

Source: Canadian Medical Hall of Fame

This article appeared in the Spring 2014 edition of Alumni Gazette
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