Who You Gonna Call (If Poison Control Centers Get Cut)?

March 24, 2011 | By Adrianne Fielding | Post a Comment

As a parent, one of my biggest fears is that I’ll someday have to make use of the number that everyone should have programmed into their cell phones: 1-800-222-1222.  Actually, I just programmed it into my cell phone.  Have you?  Go ahead – I’ll wait.

(pause)

OK, as I was saying, nobody ever wants to call a poison control center.  But I bet you’re glad that you can if you need to.  In fact, this is National Poison Prevention Week.  If you wonder whether such a thing is really necessary, you might be interested in the fact from President Obama’s proclamation that “death rates from unintentional poisonings have increased steadily in recent years.”

However, like almost everything else that’s underwritten by the federal government, poison control centers are under consideration for some major cuts.

Although it subsequently failed in the Senate, H.R. 1, which passed in the House on Feb. 19, would have cut about 93% of the federal funding for poison control centers across the country.  The short-term continuing resolutions that have kept the government running since then have taken cues from cuts proposed in H.R. 1, and Congress is cooking up another one before the current CR expires on April 8.  In other words, poison control centers aren’t out of the woods yet.

A March 22 piece on CNN.com offered some interesting insights about who uses poison control centers and the debates over how to organize their operations.  In 1999, 16 percent of the 4.2 million calls fielded by poison centers came from hospitals. And if a 911 operator identifies a poisoning-related emergency, they also call a poison center.

Proponents of the current model argue that poison control center spending leads to other health care savings. In a written statement, the Executive Director of the American Association of Poison Control Centers noted that poison centers allow about 75% of cases to be treated at home rather than at hospitals.  And a study cited by the Department of Health and Human Services indicates a sevenfold return on every dollar spent on poison control centers.

Advocates of the cuts proposed in H.R. 1 (which would reduce poison control centers from 57 to 1) claim that available technology allows for a more streamlined model that increases efficiency and reduces duplication, since poison control centers already handle calls from other geographic areas as necessary.

Do you prefer the current decentralized model of poison centers or would you like to see the operation centralized?  Would a series of regional centers be a happier medium?

Regardless, let’s all heed the advice in this week’s proclamation to “identify possible dangers in the home, take action to address poisoning hazards, and learn how to respond if a poison emergency should occur.”

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