National Poison Prevention Week highlights education efforts
Has your child eaten or been exposed to some kind of cleaning product? Has an elderly parent taken too much of his or her routine medicines? Have you just been bitten by a nasty-looking snake in your overgrown backyard?
If any of these have occurred, the first call should be to the experts at the North Texas Poison Center (NTPC) located at Parkland Health & Hospital System. The NTPC is on the front lines helping people decide whether a poison or substance exposure is serious enough to seek immediate emergency care or whether it is something that can be handled at home.
“One of the best things about this job is that the experts at NTPC love reassuring callers and being there to help in a very scary situation,” said Brenda Tae, RN, CSPI, one of the 14 staff members who answer phones at the NTPC, 24/7. “We get all kinds of calls. They range from a mother who’s worried about her child who just ate silica gel to the call received from the emergency room of a healthcare facility with questions about the care of a patient who overdosed on a medication or substance.”
NTPC, along with five other accredited regional poison centers, provides emergency treatment information to the citizens of Texas for poisonings or toxic exposures. The NTPC region covers 42 counties and a population of about 8 million people. Staff members are specialists in poison information (SPI) or certified specialists in poison information (CSPI) who are registered nurses, pharmacists, physicians or nationally certified physician assistants.
In 2016 the NTPC handled 72,073 calls, an average of about 200 calls each day. All six regional centers in the Texas Poison Center Network (TPCN) handled 234,068 calls in 2016.
“Public education is a very big part of what we do,” explained Donna Abron, Operations Manager at NTPC. “Essentially, the staff triages all calls that come into the poison center. One of our main goals is to keep people at home if they do not require emergency or life threatening treatment in healthcare facilities. The TPCN saved consumers money by preventing more than 3,000 unnecessary visits to emergency rooms per month last year. We want people to call us first with any concerns or questions.”
Education is the focus of this year’s Poison Prevention Week, a national observance that takes place from March 19-25. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, poisoning remains the leading cause of injury-related death in the U.S. In 2015, the nationwide network of 55 centers handled 2.8 million cases, with 2.2 million involving dangerous or potentially dangerous substances; almost half involved children younger than 6 years of age.
Anyone can contact the poison center by dialing the national toll-free number at 1.800.222.1222. The Texas Poison Center Network is staffed 24-hours a day, 365 days a year. You can also add the poison control number to your smartphone contacts by texting the word “poison” to 797979.
All poison centers must have a medical toxicologist physician available 24/7 to support the poison information specialists who answer phone calls. At the NTPC, Medical Director Brett Roth, MD, works with the Division of Medical Toxicology in the Department of Emergency Medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center.
The Medical Toxicology Division sponsors a fellowship program and part of the fellows’ training is to work at the NTPC under the supervision of a Medical Director.
“Whenever the poison center has a need, they can contact one of the Toxicology fellows,” said Kurt Kleinschmidt, MD, Toxicology Program Director. “Among the duties of the fellows is to get out into the community and help educate the public about toxicology issues.”
Prior to working at the poison center, Tae was not aware that nurses, pharmacists and physicians could practice in this type of setting.
“I have been a registered nurse and worked in different hospital roles and I was looking for something to do that was a little different,” Tae said. “I love that I can use my prior nursing knowledge in this world of toxicology. Every day at work I get to use my assessment and critical thinking skills along with the knowledge gained from the training I received here in the poison center.”
Common calls include exposures to prescription and over-the-counter drugs, industrial chemicals or gases, snake bites, insect bites and stings, and exposure to potentially poisonous plants, just to name a few.
For more information about the North Texas Poison Center, visit www.poisoncontrol.org. To find out about services at Parkland, go to www.parklandhospital.com.