Fifty years ago, in 1962, 3-year-old Philip was rushed to the nearest hospital 30 minutes away. Tragically, he had found and drunk a bottle of rat poison. Though all attempts were made to save his life, he lived only a few more hours. Fifty years later, his sister, Cathy Seifried of Kingwood, Texas, is still grieving.
According to Cathy, her brother’s death, a tragedy in itself, had long-lasting effects on her entire family as grief, sadness and remorse took its toll. “I had good parents,” says Seifried. “They managed to function and go through the daily motions, but as a family, we were broken.”
Today, Seifried focuses her efforts into supporting poison control centers. She feels that had her family had access to the education, outreach, and support that today’s poison centers offer, her family might have eluded terrible heartbreak and devastation.
The nation celebrates the 50th anniversary of National Poison Prevention Week March 18 through 24, 2012. National Poison Prevention Week was first proclaimed by President Kennedy in 1962 to raise awareness about the dangers of poisoning. Much progress has been made in poisoning prevention in the years since. In 1972, for example, more than 200 children in the U.S. died as a result of poisoning. By 2007, that number dropped to 39. However, there is still much work to be done: poisoning is now the leading cause of death from unintentional injuries in the United States – ahead of motor vehicle crashes and guns.
Just one phone number – 1-800-222-1222 – will put you in touch with your local poison center. America’s 57 poison centers take calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year in more than 150 languages. Calls to the center are free and confidential and are answered by experts in poisoning treatment and prevention.
In 2011, federal budget cuts reduced funding for poison control centers by 36 percent. Poison centers, which handle about 4 million calls a year, are now in jeopardy; further cuts will make it difficult for poison centers to continue providing life-saving services.
Who calls poison centers? Parents and babysitters call when young children have been exposed to toxic substances. Seniors call when they fear they may have made an error in taking their medicine. And doctors, nurses, pharmacists and emergency room staff place 1,400 calls daily to the Poison Help number (1-800-222-1222) for treatment advice on drug- or poison-related cases.
Poison centers are also a highly cost-effective source of health care. For every dollar spent on poison centers, 7 dollars are saved in unnecessary health-care costs. On average, 70 percent of callers are able to be treated at home, thus avoiding the far more costly hospital or doctor’s office visits. Poison centers also provide poison prevention outreach to their communities. It is estimated that poison center services, in addition to saving lives, are three times as cost-effective as child safety seats, bicycle helmets and smoke detectors and are as cost-effective as childhood immunizations.
So what can you do to prevent poisonings?
- Keep medicines and cleaning supplies locked up and away from children. Children act fast. Unfortunately, so do poisons.
- Always use your glasses to read your prescription bottle, and take medicine only with the lights on.
- Ask visitors to keep purses and luggage containing medicine out of reach of children at all times.
- Install carbon monoxide detectors and check batteries at least twice a year.
- Keep the Poison Help number (1- 800-222-1222) accessible and programmed into your phone.
- Call the Poison Help number even if it’s not an emergency. When in doubt, check it out.
- Support legislation that funds local poison centers.
“Philip has been gone for 50 years,” says Seifried. “I know there are many other stories just like his. For their sakes, please get involved with your local poison center in promoting poisoning prevention and the Poison Help number. You can make a difference.”
The American Association of Poison Control Centers supports the nation’s 57 poison centers in their efforts to prevent and treat poison exposures. Poison centers offer free, confidential, expert medical advice 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The hotline is staffed by specially trained medical experts – including doctors, nurses and pharmacists – who take calls in more than 150 languages and from the hearing impaired.
For questions about poison or if you think someone has been exposed to a poison, call the Poison Help line at 1-800-222-1222 to reach your local poison center.