Each year, the Oregon Poison Center at Oregon Health & Science University manages 50,000 cases from families, medical professionals and others in the community seeking information and emergency treatment advice about poisonings. About 90% of these cases are people coming into contact with dangerous or potentially dangerous substances — 75% of which are unintentional or accidental.
To reduce the number of these incidents, during National Poison Prevention Week, March 19 - 25, the Oregon Poison Center at OHSU reminds the community that poisonings are preventable and urges practical safety precautions at home.
The top causes of Oregon Poison Center cases each year are from household cleaners, personal care products, alcohol and drugs, and medicines, including prescription and over-the-counter drugs, vitamins and supplements. The unique geography and potential hazards in the center’s service area means it also treats exposures to cannabis, marine biotoxin and envenomation, or animal venom, as well as wild mushroom and plant poisonings, among others. While not every exposure is considered toxic, some substances are especially dangerous, even in small amounts.
“The accidental poisonings that we are most concerned about are medications, because they can lead to the most severe injuries,” says Rob Hendrickson, M.D., medical director of the Oregon Poison Center at OHSU and professor of emergency medicine in the OHSU School of Medicine.
Poison prevention starts with safe storage: “It is critical to store medicine, cannabis and other potentially poisonous substances safely, especially if there are children in the home,” Hendrickson says. “Simple measures like using a medicine lock box can have a big impact.”
On average, 90% of poisonings happen in homes. National Poison Prevention Week is a great time to consider poison risks in the home and take steps to make the environment safer.
Strategies for preventing poisonings include:
- Keep and store all medicine, cannabis and vape products up high and out of reach and sight of children. Locked up is best. A medicine lock box is an effective, low-cost solution.
- Remember that family and visitors may bring medicine and other potentially poisonous substances into your home on their person or in a purse or bag. Designate a secure spot, such as a high shelf or locking closet, for visitors to store their belongings while in your home.
- Talk with your teens and young adults about the risks of substance use. Discuss the risks associated with consuming drugs purchased off the internet, from social media sites or from anyone who is not their health care professional. Opioids and counterfeit pills may contain deadly fentanyl.
- Keep and store all cleaning products and chemicals up high, out of sight and out of reach of children. Store them separately from food and drinks to avoid mix-ups. Leave products in their original packaging with labels intact. Avoid transferring chemicals to other unmarked containers or beverage containers. Always read and follow the directions for use prior to using them.
- Teach children from a young age not to eat anything that they find on their own. This includes loose pills, unknown liquids and plants. Remind them to ask an adult first.
- Be prepared for a poison emergency by saving the Poison Help hotline in your phone: 1-800-222-1222.
More poison prevention tips, information and other poison safety resources are available at the Oregon Poison Center website or by request from the center.
Celebrated the third week of March, National Poison Prevention Week aims to raise awareness about poison control centers, the Poison Help Hotline (1-800-222-1222) as well as educate the public about how to prevent poisonings. This year’s national theme is, “When poison happens, we’re here for you” — a reminder that poison control centers are ready to help in a poison emergency.
If you or a loved one is experiencing a poison emergency, call the Oregon Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222. A trained healthcare provider is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The call is free and confidential. Poison prevention education and other poison safety resources are available at https://www.ohsu.edu/oregon-poison-center.
Accredited by the American Association of Poison Control Centers, the Oregon Poison Center is a designated regional poison control center for Oregon, Alaska and Guam.