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Are child safety caps enough to keep kids out?

A warning about kids getting into your medication: A new study shows more children are being rushed to hospitals.
/ Source: TODAY

A warning about kids getting into your medication: A new study shows more children are being rushed to hospitals.

That new study out this week from Safe Kids Worldwide shows there are more than 1,100 emergency calls every day about a young child getting into medicine or getting too much medicine by accident.

We assume that child safety caps will protect our kids: After all, you have to push down, and twist. You may think: "I'm an adult and even I have a hard time with these safety caps sometimes. So how could a little kid open it?"

Even for preschoolers, it can be child's play.

Kate Carr is president and CEO of the watchdog group Safe Kids, and says these caps may be part of a bigger problem. A new report just out shows a stunning 30 percent spike over the past decade in young kids accidentally poisoned by medication. In 2011 alone, 67,000 children were rushed to hospitals for it.

"It should be scary," Carr told us. "They think it's candy, so they're going to swallow it and they're going to go after more."

We invited a group of 4-year-olds to a playdate. Then we bought several medications, from ibuprofen to acetaminophen, cough syrup, iron pills, prescription antibiotics. We also bought toxic drain and floor cleaners. If swallowed by a child, all these products can be poisonous, even deadly. That's why they come with child-resistant safety caps.

Before our test we dumped everything out. We even cleaned and sanitized the bottles so that nothing was left behind. Back at the playdate, with the kids' parents looking on, we got started.

"We want to see how quickly you can open these bottles," we told the kids. "One, two, three, go! See what you can open."

Within three seconds, Francesca, one of the children, popped the safety cap on ibuprofen, which according to Safe Kids is the No. 1 drug kids get into. About a minute later she opened another bottle, of acetaminophen -- No. 3 on the list.

"You opened that one too? Was that easy to open?" we asked her.

"Yes," Francesca said.

The boys were doing it too. A boy named Marc opened the cough syrup, and those dangerous painkillers. Remember, these could be poison for a child. But another boy, Brayden, was opening bottles with ease.

In fact, every single child in our group opened at least one bottle. Olivia opened two within minutes. "I am really fast 'cause I'm a big girl," she said.

Olivia's mom, Antonella, was watching in horror. "I was frightened," she told us. "You buy these items expecting them to be childproof, and my little 4-year-old sat there and opened it."

What you may not know is that under federal law, these caps don't have to be childproof -- just child-resistant. "Are the regulations tight enough?" we asked Kate Carr of Safe Kids.

"I think they are," Carr said. "We don't want to make it impossible to open something. What we want (is) to make sure is that kids can't get to medicine."

She says it all comes down to us, as adults. We leave medications in our bags, on counters as a reminder to take them. But that can also make them easily accessible to small kids.

For Francesca's dad, Brian Marino, our playdate was a wake-up call. "I've got to go home and check the house (for) medicines and bottles and make sure they're put away," he said. "Seeing that they're that easily opened by a 4-year-old is very dangerous."

So if these caps aren't 100 percent effective, how do you protect your children? Safety experts say it's unrealistic to think we're going to lock up our medication. So the easiest thing to do: Take if off your nightstand, off the kitchen counter, and put it up and away where you can reach it but you're kids can't. And do that every time.

By the way, at the end of our playdate, we told the kids this was a test, these products are very dangerous, and they should never try to open these bottles again.

If your child does get into any medications, Safe Kids Worldwide said parents should call The Poison Help Line at 1-800-222-1222.

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This article was originally published Mar. 20, 2015 at 7:30 a.m. ET.