An Interview with Debbie Carr, American Association of Poison Control Centers Executive Director
A: The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) and the 57 poison centers nationwide are proud to promote National Poison Prevention Week. We are dedicated to raising awareness about the risks of potential poisoning at home, work and play. We continually educate communities about poison prevention practices and promote our free information and intervention services offered by calling the Poison Help line. Please program the Poison Help line (1-800-222-1222) into your phone and post it by your home phone.
Q: Is poisoning a big problem in the U.S.?
Poisoning is a big deal! According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, poisoning is now the leading cause of death from injuries in the U.S. – ahead of motor vehicle accidents and guns. It is the fourth leading cause of death among children. About 82 people die every day in the U.S. as a result of unintentional poisoning, and another 1,941 are treated in emergency rooms.
While most calls to poison centers are about children, most people who die from poisons are adults. Poisoning spans a lifetime. It is a danger for all of us and it is preventable.
What do you want people to know about poison centers?
America’s 57 local poison centers provide free, confidential, expert medical advice to people who have been exposed to a poison. Health professionals with special training in poisons, including nurses and pharmacists, answer calls about exposure to harmful substances, and doctors provide medical advice.
We receive nearly 4 million calls every year. Of those, more than 2.4 million are calls about poison exposures; the rest are calls for information.
We get calls about exposures to carbon monoxide, snake bites, food poisoning, pesticides, prescription medicine errors, plants, drug labs, overdoses, button batteries, lead in toys. There is nothing that poison center experts haven’t heard. Your child drank toilet water? We’ve heard it! Used pain relief ointment instead of toothpaste? Heard that too!
Unfortunately, poison centers suffered a 36 percent cut in federal funding in 2011, plus additional cuts by state and local governments. Nationwide coverage for poison emergencies is still in place today, but if funding continues to decrease, it will be difficult for centers to continue providing services.
Are poison centers really important?
Poison centers save lives, period. We protect the health of Americans through direct medical services, prevention services, health-care provider education and community education. We are also on the forefront of discovering new and emerging poisoning issues, such as the recent detection of “bath salt” abuse.
America’s 57 poison centers provide direct patient health-care services at no cost. When was the last time you received qualified, trustworthy health advice and treatment for free? You can call a poison center at any time of day or night, even on holidays, and receive expert health guidance. No one sends you a bill. The poison experts simply answer your questions, help you treat any poisonings, and guide you to any further medical help if necessary. In more than 70 percent of cases, poisoning patients can be treated at home. No ambulances, no waiting in an ER, no bills!
When patients do need medical treatment beyond what they can do at home, we can help their doctors identify and treat poisonings. We receive roughly 1,400 calls a day from doctors and nurses looking for treatment advice.
Are poison centers important? You tell me!
What one piece of advice do you have during National Poison Prevention Week?
Program the Poison Help number (1-800-222-1222) into your phone! If the unthinkable happens, it’s good to know that help is just a phone call away. Time matters with poisoning. Minutes count!
Never feel ashamed or embarrassed to call. As we always say, “When in doubt, check it out.” Call the Poison Help line at 1-800-222-1222!
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.