Fifty years after President Kennedy first proclaimed the third week of March National Poison Prevention Week, poisonings continue to be a significant public health issue.
Today, there are 90 percent fewer poisoning deaths among children under five years of age than there were 50 years ago, but this age group still accounts for more than half of poison center cases. The good news is when a poison center is called, most of these cases can be treated at home with over-the-phone advice from trained health care professionals like nurses, saving time and unnecessary, expensive emergency department visits.
For adults, poisonings are a fast growing public health concern. More people die of poisonings than motor vehicle crashes. Nearly nine out of ten poisoning deaths are caused by drugs, including medications. Drug poisoning deaths have increased 600 percent since 1980. Middle-age males are the group most likely to die from a drug poisoning.
“Adults don’t think of medications or drugs as potential poisonings. We are seeing more and more people taking many more medications and having bad outcomes. Errors in taking the medications, interactions and side effects result. Each additional medication adds to the risk that a medication-related problem will occur. We need to remind adults that children are not the only victims of poisoning. Medication-related problems are a type of poisoning that affects many adults,” said Dr. Karen Simone, the Director of the Northern New England Poison Center.
Dr. Simone added, “Most adults do not think of calling a poison center about a possible medication-related problem, especially if it is not an emergency. They do not realize that the poison center can be called in an emergency or with a question.”
The Northern New England Poison Center (NNEPC) launched a new website to better serve Vermont residents. In addition to calling the poison center at 1-800-222-1222, visitors to www.nnepc.org can now chat with a trained health care professional 24 hours a day about their poisoning or poison question.
“Our hope is that by being available around-the-clock by phone and now through online chat, people who have never used our services before will start to use them,” said Dr. Simone. “The idea is that if people call the poison center first, they may not need to go to the emergency department. If the poison center determines that a caller does need to go to the emergency department, the poison center staff will work with the hospital doctors and nurses so the patient gets better faster.”
To Prevent Poisoning:
- Program you cell phone with the poison center phone number, 1-800-222-1222.
- Post 1-800-222-1222 near your home phone.
- Visit www.nnepc.org to learn more about common poisons.
- Store medications and other poisons up and away, out of the sight of children. Take the pledge at www.upandaway.org.
- Clean out your medicine cabinet and get rid of unwanted medications. Visit www.nnepc.org for tips on safe disposal.
- Participate in a medication take-back event in your community on April 28. Learn more at www.dea.gov.
- Remember, when you call or chat with the poison center, you get help immediately, saving valuable time in an emergency.