Did you know?
On average, poison centers handle 1 possible poisoning every 13 seconds.
More than 70 percent of all poison deaths occurs in adults ages 20 to 59.
Older adults are more likely than others to die from poisonings. These adults account for 5 percent of possible poisonings but for 16 percent of the deaths.
50 percent of possible poisonings involve children under age 6.
93 percent of possible poisonings happen at home.
- Tennessee Poison Center
- University of Tennessee College of Pharmacy
- University of Tennessee Extension
In the United States, poison centers provide immediate treatment advice for poison emergencies. They also provide information about poisons and poison prevention, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. However, poison control centers across the United States are an underutilized community resource by the public and health care providers such as emergency room personnel, physicians and emergency medical personnel. By increasing the use of centers by the public, research has shown that the negative outcomes of poisonings, including death and disability, can be avoided. With every dollar spent on accessing a poison control center, seven dollars are saved in health care costs by avoiding trips to emergency rooms, ambulance use, hospital admissions and treatment delays.
Most poisonings are unintentional and preventable. Sixty-three percent of the poisonings involve children under age six. A child is accidentally poisoned every 30 seconds in the United States. The home is the most common place. Children face a greater risk for poisonings than adults. Their internal organs are still developing and their enzymatic, metabolic and immune systems may provide less natural protections than those of an adult. Children’s behavior, such as playing on the floor or on the lawn where pesticides are applied, or putting objects into their mouths, increase their chances of exposure to poisons. Calls to the poison center peak between 4:00 and 10:00 PM when households become more hectic during the routine of getting dinner on the table and parents are more distracted.
The Tennessee Poison Center is a comprehensive poison resource center that provides poison control service to residents of all 95 Tennessee counties. This service includes a medical Poison Help hotline service for poison emergency and information calls and poison prevention education. Both of these programs are free of charge.
Physicians, hospitals, public health departments and the public depend on poison control centers to provide state-of-the-art emergency advice and treatment information 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. The medical professionals answering the Poison Help hotline calls are pharmacists, registered nurses or physicians with special training and certification in managing poison exposures. Dr. Donna Seger, a board certified toxicologist, provides medical back-up to the poison specialists 24 hours a day. These professionals are full-time employees of the Tennessee Poison Center.
The Poison Help hotline calls range from a child drinking a household cleaner to an accidental drug overdose to a snake or spider bite. Service is available for people with hearing problems and for non-English speakers.
The Poison Help toll-free hotline for poison emergency calls (1-800-222-1222) was established in 2001. All calls are free and confidential. By dialing this toll-free number from anywhere in the U.S., the caller can reach the closest poison control center. Any call made in Tennessee is routed to the Tennessee Poison Center. In 2004, the Tennessee Poison Center provided assistance to 103,446 individuals who called the Poison Help hotline requesting either emergency first aid treatment advice for a possible poison exposure or information regarding a poison. Tennessee Poison Center currently is the 7th busiest poison control center in the U.S.
Poisons can hurt you – or even kill you - if you eat them, breathe them or get them on your skin. Anyone can be a poison victim. Safety is a basic human concern. However, many parents and children don’t know how to stay safe from poisons. Children are naturally curious and they need to learn to identify poisons in order to stay safe. Parents want to keep their children safe, but in many instances, don’t know how to keep children away from poisons or how to respond in a poison emergency.
Education is the key to prevent poisonings in the home and to learn how to respond in a poison emergency. However, the challenge is how to reach residents in every county across the state with poison prevention education. Through a unique partnership, the Tennessee Poison Center and the University of Tennessee (UT) Extension are working together to teach children and adults how to identify a poison, how to avoid becoming a victim of a poisoning and how to respond in a poison emergency. Both have educational literature. Also, phone stickers and magnets with the Poison Help hotline are available. County UT Extension educators work with the Tennessee Poison Center's outreach staff to provide poison information at health and safety fairs and to present programs to schools, child care centers, senior assisted housing, pharmacies, 4-H clubs, senior centers and other organizations.
Extension educators have been trained in poison education prevention specifically targeting child care providers, seniors, babysitters, parents and children. Two telecommunication grants ($949,307) were awarded from the Rural Utilities Service of USDA to develop a technology-based program, Be Poison Safe Tennessee, to decrease the impact of poisonings on the health of Tennesseans. A multi-disciplinary team of trainers with expertise in information technology, clinical toxicology, health education, communications and program evaluation research conducted the three-session, thirty-six hour training program. Participants received laptop computers, media projectors, printers, laminators and exhibit boards to use in their poison education programs. A UT Extension video conferencing network was established across the state.
The Tennessee Poison Center can help with questions about:
- Household products
- Chemicals at work or in the environment
- Drugs (prescription, over-the-counter, herbal or illegal)
- Snake and spider bites
- Chemical terrorism
No matter where you are in Tennessee, you can call the Poison Help hotline at 1-800-222-1222 and speak with a health care provider who has been specially trained in poison management. All calls are free of charge and the Poison Help hotline is available 24 hours a day, 365 days each year.
Within the first few minutes, the specialist will assess the situation and provide emotional support. Our poison specialists manage all types of poisoning situations hundreds of times a day. Currently, our specialists answer 325-350 calls each day. Due to the quick response time and high level of expertise, 73% of all calls are resolved over the telephone while the patient remains at home. This avoids unnecessary trips to emergency rooms, ambulance use, hospital admissions and treatment delays. At the same time, valuable healthcare dollars do not have to be spent.
Through a unique partnership, the Tennessee Poison Center and the University of Tennessee (UT) Extension are working together to increase the understanding of poisons and how to prevent a poisoning among Tennesseans. Both have literature available on all types of poisoning topics, including poison proofing your home, poisonous plants and inhalant abuse. Also, phone stickers and magnets with the Poison Help hotline are available. County UT Extension educators work with the Tennessee Poison Center’s outreach staff to provide poison information at health and safety fairs and to present programs to schools and other organizations. Contact your county UT Extension office if you would like poison education materials or a presentation on poison prevention for child care providers, seniors, babysitters, parents and children.
Also, the Tennessee Poison Center is a vital part of Tennessee’s disaster emergency plan. Call outcomes are reported to a nationwide poisoning surveillance system. And, in the event of a disaster, residents would call the Poison Help hotline for antidote and decontamination information.
If you think someone has been poisoned, call the Tennessee Poison Center right away –
- Don’t panic.
- Call the Tennessee Poison Center immediately for help – do not wait for symptoms to occur.
- Do not treat until the Tennessee Poison Center specialist determines what action to take.
- Have the following information ready when you call:
- Person’s condition, age and weight
- Product container
- Whether the product has been swallowed, inhaled or splashed in the eyes
- Time that the poisoning occurred
Through the combined efforts of seventy-seven UT Extension educators and the health educators of the Tennessee Poison Center, the center experienced an increase in the number of educational programs in the state from 401 to 1,003. Program attendance increased from 35,687 in 30 counties to 448,845 in all 95 counties. Literature distribution grew from 112,817 pieces in 2003 to 642,084 pieces in 2004. The Poison Help hotline also saw a dramatic 64% increase in calls in 85 of the 95 counties, due to promoting the hotline through educational programs and literature distribution.
The American Association of Poison Control Centers states that a certified poison control center should receive 7 calls per 1,000 persons per county and is referred to as call penetrance. This number tells the poison center that residents are aware of the center’s services and are calling the center when they have a poison emergency or question. As a result of the Be Poison Safe Tennessee Program, call penetrance has increased to 9 calls or greater (with a variance from 9 to 36 calls per county) in 87 out of 95 counties. This increase in call penetrance is attributed to the outreach efforts of the UT Extension educators. The impact of the partnership has been greater than expected, enabling the Tennessee Poison Center to save lives in all 95 counties.
The Partnership won the 2005 Frist Foundation Award of Achievement for Team Building. This award is bestowed on organizations and teams that produce outstanding results while fulfilling their mission in cost–effective ways. Sixty non-profit organizations applied for the award, with three nominated. In 2005, 291,796 Tennesseans attended poison prevention programs.
To decrease the number of poisonings in Tennessee by preventing unintentional poisonings among high-risk audiences (children and older adults) through educational activities targeting parents, childcare providers, older adults, babysitters and school-aged children.
- To promote the use of the toll-free, nation-wide Poison Control Center phone number (1-800-222-1222).
- To educate the public about the services of the Tennessee Poison Center.
- To educate the public about ways to keep a poison safe environment including the home and childcare settings.
- To maintain a cadre of county Extension educators trained in poison prevention education.
- To deliver community-based poison prevention education programs targeting parents, childcare providers, older adults, babysitters and school-age children.
- To disseminate poison prevention messages through media and places where people frequent.
- To promote the recommendations and resources of the American Association of Poison Control Centers.
- To promote National Poison Prevention week held annually in March.
About the Program
The Be Poison Safe Tennessee! program is constructed around the following twelve curricula:
- How Poison Safe Are Your Children at Home? Lesson designed to empower parents to maintain a poison safe home environment, the role of the Poison Control Center and the toll free number, and how to handle a poisoning emergency.
- Make Your Babysitting Poison Safe. Lesson designed to teach babysitters about small children and poisonings, role of the Poison Control Center and the toll free number, and how to respond to a poisoning emergency.
- Keep Your Home Poison Safe. Lesson designed to address poison safety issues unique to older adults including medications, use of household and chemical products and protecting grandchildren from poisonings.
- Make Your Child Care Poison Safe Care. Lesson designed to empower childcare providers to maintain a poison safe environment for small children, the role of the Poison Control Center and the toll-free number, and how to handle a poisoning emergency.
- Keep Away From Poisons! Lesson designed to teach school-age children about poisons and the Poison Control Center's toll-free number.
- Always Ask First is a poison prevention education program for children in pre-school through second grade addressing "look-a-likes."
- Product Safety: Be Safe Around Poisons is a middle-school program addressing inhalants.
- Poison Control in Action is an adult education program designed to save lives.
- Read the Label First is a poison prevention program developed by the National Safety Council which teaches parents, gardeners, pet owners and others the value of reading and understanding labels that are found on household chemicals and pesticides.
- Inhalant Abuse Safety Kit is for youth and parents. Available from www.inhalant.org
- Spikes Poison Adventure video, puppet and lesson for preschoolers.
- Tennessee Poison Control System is a poison prevention program for adults.
- Is Your Home Poison-Proof? is a poison prevention program for adults.
Educational materials, including posters, exhibits and publications, have been developed for use by county Extension educators and community partners, such as pharmacists, child care providers and pediatricians, to promote the Poison Control Center's toll free number and to increase awareness about poison safety among Tennesseans.
For educational materials from the Tennessee Poison Center, contact Josephine Darwin. To have a poison prevention education program offered in your area, contact your county UT Extension educator or Josephine Darwin.
Available from the Tennessee Poison Center:
- Poison Help Brochure (English)
- Poison Help Brochure (Spanish)
- Prevent a Poisoning (2-sided card in English)
- Prevent a Poisoning (2-sided card in Spanish)
- Inhalants Are Poisons Brochure (English)
- Inhalants Are Poisons Brochure (Spanish)
- Magnets (Advertising the Poison Help hotline phone number)
- Phone Stickers (Advertising the Poison Help hotline number)
- Adult Poison Prevention Video Program – VHS format
- Is It Medicine or Candy? Poster
Available from UT Extension:
- Children Act Fast…So Do Poisons! Poster
- Help 1-800-222-1222 Poster
- Poison Education Game
- Protect Your Child Against Poisonings…Get Poison Smart! Exhibit (in English and Spanish)
- Parenting Tips for Poison Prevention Publication (SP608, SP608-A) (in English and Spanish)
- Inhalants Are Poisons Brochure (English)
- Read the Label First! Brochures
National Poison Prevention Week is the third full week in March. Local poison control centers across the nation coordinate community education activities for families, educators, administrators and health professionals alike. Contact the Tennessee Poison Center to learn how you can participate. Educational materials to promote National Poison Prevention Week are available from the following organizations:
- American Association of Poison Control Centers
- Poison Prevention Week Council
- US Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)
2008 National Poison Prevention Week Information & Poster Contest - March 16-22, 2008
Tennessee Poison Center's Web site:
Tennessee Poison Center Newsletters
Winter 2007 (pdf)
Summer 2007 (pdf)
|Barbara (Bobbi) P. Clarke, PhD, RD
Professor & Extension Health Specialist,
Co-Director UT Center for Community Health Literacy
University of Tennessee Extension
Family & Consumer Sciences
119 Morgan Hall
Knoxville, TN 37996-4501
Telephone: (865) 974-8197
Fax: (865) 974-5370
Director, Community Outreach
Tennessee Poison Center
501 Oxford House
1161 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37232-4632
Phone: (615) 936-0760
Fax: (615) 936-0756
For more information about the UT Extension Health & Safety programs, please contact your local County Extension FCS Agent .