Before 1967, medicine came in simple, screw-top bottles anyone could open. In a single city more than a thousand children per year were being poisoned after the unsupervised ingestion of these easily accessible medications. One man decided to change that. His name? Dr. Henri Breault.

Born in 1909 in Tecumseh, Ontario, Henri Breault graduated with an M.D. from the University of Western Ontario in 1936, and went directly on to intern at the Hotel Dieu Hospital in Windsor, Ontario (adjacent to the state of Michigan.) His internship led to a decision to dedicate himself to pediatrics and the care of children.  Spanning the course of his 40 year medical career, he came across a tremendously high number of cases of children being accidentally poisoned by medication as well as other dangerous household items like cleaning products.

In 1957 Dr. Breault landed the position of Chief of Pediatrics and Director for the new Poison Control Centre back at the Hotel Dieu Hospital. Once there, he began seeing poisoning cases on a daily basis—especially children that had managed to ingest their parents’ medication, often Aspirin.

The annual poisoning rate steadily rose to 1,000 cases per year in the Windsor, Ontario area, with at least one fatality. Dr. Breault decided to take action to try and stop these needless poisonings and deaths. First, he started a public awareness campaign which completely and utterly failed to make an impact on the problem. Realizing that if people wouldn’t change voluntarily, he’d have to make it involuntary, he came up with the idea of child-proof containers. By 1962 he had established an alliance of pharmacists and physicians to help with his plans, and went on to establish the Ontario Association for the Control of Accidental Poisoning, or O.A.C.A.P. Whether intentional or not, the acronym spells out “Oh, A CAP.”

It took them time, and a lot of failed ideas—but eventually the President of ITL Industries developed something known as the Palm N Turn design. The design was adopted in the Windsor area in 1967, and got immediate results: child poisonings dropped 91%. They had found themselves a true winner. The Ontario College of Pharmacy gave the new cap its endorsement and soon it was being used all across Ontario, and by 1974 the provincial government made it mandatory. Other provinces soon fell in with the plan, and so did the United States, who knew a good thing when they saw it. One health official summed it up this way, “The Child-Resistant Container is to childhood poisonings what the Salk vaccine is to polio.”  The child-proof container idea has prevented uncountable numbers of child poisonings since its creation, giving Dr. Breault a legacy anyone could be proud of.

A laureate of The Canadian Medical Hall of Fame, Dr. Breault died on October 9th, 1983. The Hotel Dieu Hospital established the “Henri J. Breault Pediatrics Centre” in his honor.

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[Photo Credit: CharlesOnFlickr]