Newspapers and television stations around the United States are wasting time and space with stories about duct-tape-and-plastic anti-terrorism kits. In the meantime, there's a real way that plastics could make households safer, but the issue isn't getting any attention.
Here's the real story: The Consumer Product Safety Commission needs to amend its rules on child-resistant packaging to encourage more widespread use of blister packs.
The issue isn't quite as sexy as anthrax and radioactive fallout, but it hits closer to home. Take a look at the facts: Since 1983, 47 children under 6 years old have died in the United States after accidentally ingesting drugs packaged in bottles. By comparison, no child has died from an overdose of drugs packaged in blister packs.
There are some obvious reasons. First, remember that more drugs in the United States are packaged in bottles. But we do have years of experience with over-the-counter drugs in blister packages, as well as prescription birth control pills. Also, data from Europe, where blister pack use is widespread, also confirms their safety.
The second reason government safety data supports blister packs is a matter of common sense: If a child defeats a blister pack, he can ingest one dose of the medicine. Getting more than that requires a great deal of persistence. But if a child defeats a bottle with a child-resistant closure (or, more likely, if an adult doesn't properly seal such a bottle), he immediately has access to multiple doses.
If blister packs have proved their effectiveness, then why aren't they more widespread? Again, two reasons: First, blister packs were not widely used when the Food and Drug Administration established its child-resistant packaging protocol in 1973, and government regulations are slow to change. Second, many consumers don't like blister packs. Ease of use and consumer satisfaction are legitimate issues - but clearly they should not trump child safety automatically.
The Falls Church, Va.-based Healthcare Compliance Packaging Council, a blister pack trade group, recently took the first step by asking CPSC to consider the issue. Now CPSC needs to pick up the ball and start running. Frankly, that's going to mean stepping on some toes, because a minority of U.S. consumers insists on valuing convenience above safety. But closure manufacturers already are dealing with that issue, trying to come up with the perfect closure that's easy for adults but still child-resistant.
It's time for blister pack makers to join the war against accidental overdoses.