Proposed state and federal funding cuts have created a crisis for the country’s poison centers, including the Missouri Poison Center at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center. Poison centers are typically among the first to identify emerging public health threats, including synthetic drugs tracked extensively by the Missouri Poison Center.
In the past two years alone, U.S. poison centers were the first to raise the alarm about toxic products marketed as bath salts and synthetic marijuana sold as incense or potpourri. In addition, they identified health issues associated with energy drinks and tracked the incidence of numerous food-borne illnesses. Several poison centers also served as a public health hotline providing information and medical advice during the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
“Poison centers have been very effective when it comes to identifying new threats to the public health,” said Julie Weber, director of the Missouri Poison Center at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center. “By tracking these trends early, we can sound the alarm to local, state and federal health organizations and educate the public about the dangers of many of these substances. Unfortunately, recent funding cuts have created an emergency for poison centers.”
SSM Cardinal Glennon encourages residents to contact their state and federal legislators to express support for poison centers and encourage them to look for ways to fund this invaluable service.
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The poison center network is a unique nationwide health-care system. Calls to the nationwide toll-free Poison Help line 1-800-222-1222 connect people with their local poison centers, which provide free, confidential, expert medical advice to people who have been exposed to a poison.
Information about every call is uploaded automatically every few minutes into the National Poison Data System. If the data exceed a certain threshold or fit certain criteria, an alert goes to a group of toxicologists and epidemiologists from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the AAPCC, who work to determine if the public’s health is threatened. This process provides an early warning system that can identify outbreaks and anticipate new cases.
“The poison center network is the only health-care system in the United States that is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week where people can speak to a health-care professional free of charge,” said Deborah A. Carr, executive director of the American Association of Poison Control Centers. “The medical experts in this remarkable system work every moment of every day to safeguard the health of every American.”
A number of studies have illustrated the cost benefit of poison centers. Patients who would otherwise go to the hospital for emergency treatment are able to call the poison center, which is able to offer at-home treatment to many callers. In Missouri, the poison center saves $4 to $9 in unnecessary health care costs for every dollar spent.
Despite the life-saving services and health-care cost savings provided by poison centers, they currently face a funding crisis. The annual cost of operating the nation’s 57 poison centers is about $150 million. Funding from the federal government accounts for about 15 percent of the total funding; the rest comes from state governments, hospitals and other sources. America’s poison centers suffered a federal funding cut of 25 percent in March 2011 and a second federal funding cut of 14 percent in December 2011, on top of budget cuts at the state and local level, which are making it difficult for poison centers to provide services to the American people.