Fall 1995 Mission

Poison!

Center answers South Texans' calls in a poison emergency

By Mike Lawrence

More than 4 million poisonings occur in the United States each year and poisonings account for one of every 20 emergency room visits. A child is poisoned every 30 seconds in this country.

To help address these problems in the South Texas region, a new South Texas Poison Center at the Health Science Center is answering all poisoning emergency calls originating from a 47- county region including San Antonio. The center is one of six in the state and serves an estimated 3.4 million people.

Opened earlier this year, the center receives all poisoning calls in South Texas made to 911 numbers or to 1-800-POISON-ONE around the clock. Staff includes nurses and pharmacists trained to assess the problem and offer recommendations for treatment, such as giving the victim milk or food, inducing vomiting or going immediately to an emergency room, depending on what was taken and the amount.

"More than three-fourths of our calls from patients can be treated at home, saving unnecessary emergency room visits," said Jon Thompson, director of the center. The center expects to receive more than 200 calls per day once the service becomes familiar to area residents.

According to Charles R. Bauer, MD, head of emergency medicine in the surgery department, the need for such a regional center has been recognized for about 10 years. "The funding for this center came following hard work by a lot of people," he said.

The center is funded by an intrastate long-distance telephone surcharge administered by the Texas Department of Health.

Staff rely on resources including Poisondex, an electronic database containing more than 850,000 products and their ingredients. They also will respond to dangers from environmental poisonings, such as chemical spills and are addressing regional problems, such as ingestion of products from Mexico or jimson weed, which grows in South Texas and can be toxic.

"The majority of poisonings occur at home, are accidental and involve children under age 6," Thompson said. "Parents should especially keep prescription medications, household cleaning products and pesticides where children cannot reach them. A lot of new products, such as dishwashing soaps, are designed in very bright colors and some look like they might taste good, but they may be more poisonous than older products."

Although most poisonings occur in children, adults are also at risk for poisoning. "Taking the wrong dose of a prescription medication or taking someone else's medication or old medicines is a common danger," he said.

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