Why We Need Poison Prevention Week

Jason Hack, MD, FACEP, FACMT

Do we really need a week dedicated to Poison Prevention awareness?

Absolutely. Consider this fact: In the U.S., poisoning deaths continue to rise annually, from 6,100 in 1980 to 47,000 in 2015, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Education plays a critical role in what are preventable deaths.

Poisonings or toxic exposures can happen to anyone and anywhere at any time!

Eye-opening facts

  • Poisoning has caused more injury-related deaths in the U.S. than motor vehicle fatalities every year since 2008.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention annual report of top 10 causes of injury-related deaths in the U.S.by age groups found:  In 2015, unintentional poisonings were the number one killer in 25-64 year olds; the ninth leading cause of death in 5-9 year olds, the eighth in 10-14 year olds, and the third in 15-24 year olds.
  • Every month for the past year there have been about 30 overdose deaths here in Rhode Island — almost one a day! These are primarily due to opioid drugs that cause the victim to stop breathing.

The biggest dangers

While these numbers are awful, research has identified danger points for poisoning:

  • Inappropriate use of pharmaceuticals, from uncontrolled access or drug interactions.  Speak with your doctor about all the medications, vitamins, herbal products that you take to ensure there are no dangerous interactions.
  • Inadvertent exposure to household chemicals.
  • Overdose of agents that an individual was using to intoxicate themselves.

The tips and tools

  • If you think someone has been poisoned, call the Poison Hotline at the POISON CENTER 1-800-222-1222: This national, toll free number is always staffed by medical experts who have extensive medical training in poison prevention and treatment and can help you decide what to do.  Put the number into your phone today!
  • Locate all of your medications and chemical products in your home, including detergents, bug killers, drain cleaners, automotive products like antifreeze or window-washer fluids, and store them in a centralized location. Think UP to make your home safer!
    • Lock them up using child-resistant locks for cabinets and closets
    • Put them up high and away so children can’t reach them. Store medications in child-resistant containers, but remember that they aren’t “child proof” and often only delay the child from getting it opened. 
    • Give them up. Throw away your unneeded, unwanted and expired medicines safely!  Bring them to a “take-back” center. Beginning April 1, this website will list local centers for drug disposal, no questions asked.
    • Never store chemicals in food or drink containers — someone could unknowingly eat or drink from the containers.
  • If you think someone is at risk of overdose, encourage them to get help:

So during this Poison Prevention Week, let’s all learn how to avoid these preventable tragedies, and keep our loved ones safe.