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Why We Need to Save U.S. Poison Control Centers

The national network of Poison Control Centers (PCC) is made up of 57 site specific operations. Even though these centers directly and indirectly save countless lives each year, many of the nation’s PCCs may be closing in the next few years. With a 36% decrease in funding in 2012 alone, poison centers across the nation are struggling to stay open. In order to ensure the continuation of PC services, the national network may be forced to consolidate into a single center. The close of local poison control centers will not only limit options available to families that find themselves in poison emergencies, but also deprive U.S. medical staff of the invaluable training materials and programs the PCC creates and offers each year.  

In 2010, there were over 10,000 calls taken each day by the 57 PCCs across the United States. And it’s not just patients that are served. Hospitals and 911 call centers often consult the expertise of their local poison control center. In addition to always having a toxicologist on staff, local poison center staff can include physicians, nurses and pharmacists who are specially trained in poison control. In fact, the PCC staff is utilized to train new health care students.

Keeping poison control centers open often eliminates unnecessary trips to the emergency room. According to a report on the value of Poison Control Centers, for every $1 spent on PCCs, $13.39 is saved in health care costs and productivity, a savings of $1.8 billion a year.  With one phone call, a PCC lab can identify an ingested or inhaled substance as a poison, and offer appropriate treatment.  In many cases, appropriate treatment means avoiding the hospital and staying at home. Almost 75% of PCC cases are treated at home. Proponents for keeping the PCCs open cite the significant long-term cost savings.

Regional Resources Band Together

The nation’s 57 regional PCCs pool their resources with the American Association of Poison Control Centers network. The AAPCC sets the standard for poison center operations and certifies specialists in poison information. Within this organization, the PCCs collaborate and support one another, sharing pertinent information that makes poison control that much more effective. 

The AAPCC provides many basic services and resources. In addition to offering a poison emergency hotline and 24-hour board certified toxicologist to answer incoming questions, the AAPCC proactively publicizes alerts about the latest or most pertinent poisoning news such as safety when using generators during storms, and protecting children from laundry detergent packages and energy drinks. Details on the latest drug abuse trends like bath salts and synthetic marijuana are also provided.

Prevention services for parents and children are enumerated, with reminders about keeping the entire home safe. For medical professionals, the site offers a reminder that PCCs offer consultations about everything from drug interactions to recommended treatments. PCCs are staffed by experts in poison control and are excellent resources.

As a teaching tool, the AAPCC is quite effective. The site offers a Poison Control in Action training program for adults and a non-judgmental forum for teens. PCC resources for teens is open minded and realistic. There are also specific training materials for certain professionals and caregivers. For instance, babysitters will find clear and extensive guides to common household poisons,child safety, and emergency poisoning procedure.  

The AAPCC is also passionate about openly informing teens of the dangers and draws of drug abuse. PCC literature empowers young people to make the most informed choices possible. There is also an Unquestionable Answers section on the PCC site that discourages readers from researching drugs and chemicals online. Even if someone is going to opt to experiment with a certain drug, the PCC is eager to provide the most authoritative answers available. 

The AAPCC’s largest industry contribution is likely its National Poison Data System (NPDS). The NPDS is currently the only cohesive poison information and surveillance database in the United States. The database holds over 50 million case records, and is updated by each of the 57 control centers approximately every 20 minutes. This data is used by many organizations to establish patient care guidelines, to identify products for reformulation, to direct toxicological studies, and to further educate the public about poison dangers.

What You Can Do

To learn more about the future of the AAPCC, and how you can help keep your local poison center open, register for the AAPCC advocacy network. Use this link to send a letter to your elected officials telling them to support funding for poison centers.

If you have a poisoning emergency, please call 1-800-222-1222.

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