Feb. 1, 2002
Volume XXXV, No. 5

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Poison centers create national telephone number

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From anywhere in the nation, Americans now can dial one toll-free phone number, (800) 222-1222, to reach a regional poison center.

A national campaign kicked off Jan. 30 with an official announcement from the American Association of Poison Control Centers in Washington, D.C.

"It's an easier way to access poison centers through the whole country. Before, every state had a different number. So if you went out of state on vacation and found you needed to call the poison center, you might waste valuable time while you frantically tried to find a phone number," said Dr. Miguel Fernández, medical director of the South Texas Poison Center at the Health Science Center and associate professor of surgery in emergency medicine and medical toxicology.

The new phone number is quicker to process than the old one, which required callers to match letters with numbers on the phone.

PHOTO FERNÁNDEZ

When dialed, callers are routed to the nearest poison center. "You'll never get a busy signal," Dr. Fernández said. "If a call is not answered in 30 seconds, it rolls to another center."

Calls are answered by licensed poison information specialists who are pharmacists or nurses and who are multilingual. "You'll never reach an operator or voice mail. You will always be greeted by someone who can directly answer your questions," Dr. Fernández said.

Calling the Poison Control Center is as confidential as visiting a physician. "Many people worry that we will report them to the police," Dr. Fernández said. "Our only concern is the health of our callers."

Poison centers save valuable time and resources. "Sometimes people rush to the emergency room in a panic, then they find out that they didn't need to make the trip," Dr. Fernández said. "When they call us first, we assess the situation, then determine whether they need to visit the emergency room. We save $7 in public health costs for every dollar spent on the centers."

National Poison Prevention Week is March 17 through 24.


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