As an administrator of the Illinois Poison Center, this has been a frustrating year as the program continues to have severe financial challenges. In 2011, the IPC suffered a $400,000 loss of funding this year on top of a $600,000 funding decrease in 2009-2010. To make up the loss, the IPC has closed 2 additional positions (on top of the 5 positions terminated/closed in 2009) and the remaining full time staff was reduced to 90% time. Difficult times indeed.
On the other hand, as a medical toxicologist committed to decreasing the incidence of exposure to hazardous substances, this has been a fabulous year for poison centers across the nation. In no previous time has the national poison center network had such a wide impact on the regulation of emerging toxic public health threats. Previous IPC blogs have shown the types of emerging public health threats noted by poison centers.
Poison center data has been used extensively in the past two years to provide data and outcomes that have led to regulatory changes intended to protect the health of the residents of the United States. A brief summary of the changes brought in past year include:
- In March of 2010, the Missouri Poison Center issued a public health alert on an outbreak of synthetic marijuana compounds. These compounds, sprayed onto herbs and marketed as a potpourri-like mixture, were rapidly noted to be a growing source of calls from emergency departments by poison centers around the country. The national data as well as local data from poison centers was used to provide situational awareness of the growth of the use/abuse of these products. On January 1, 2011, less than 9 months after the alerts from poison centers on the wide-scale abuse of this product, the major components of the current products were banned in Illinois.
- In November, 2010, the Louisiana Poison Center issued an alert of over 80 individuals who experienced severe medical effects from the ingestion of ‘bath salts’. National data and local data were used to show the growth of this new emerging drug of abuse as well. In July, 2011, less than nine months after the first alert, the major compounds that make up ‘bath salts’ were banned in Illinois. Since the ban, calls to the IPC on this drug have dropped 58% from pre-ban levels.
- Public awareness of Lazy cakes was not created by poison centers, but the data from melatonin calls to poison centers, as well as anecdotal reports of increased lethargy among toddlers lead to an FDA recall of lazy cakes in July, 2011. At greatest risk were small children – due to the possibility of eating these brownies which have large amounts of the sleep hormone, melatonin. Half of a brownie contained an adult dose of melatonin (already too much for a toddler) and what adult, much less a child, would stop at half a brownie or less?
On The Horizon
Potential new changes that may be forthcoming are in the area of button batteries. Data from poison centers has been collected and analyzed for the past several years; 11 deaths in small children from the ingestion of a button battery were noted. Most of these ingestions occur when children get access to the small, round bite-size batteries from a remote control or other electronic object. There is a movement to provide some type of ‘child-proofing’ mechanism, possibly where the battery is held in place within the equipment (e.g. screws or other hardware change instead of a simple clip). Data collected by poison centers at the local level and collectively at the national level will be instrumental for these changes to occur.
Besides the clear value of our services in saving scarce health care resources, poison centers provide less obvious benefits through our participation in the public health and regulatory process. This is an exciting time for poison centers as our data is being increasingly used to bring about regulatory change that prevents disease and injury in the communities we serve.
Until next Tuesday,
For more information about the Illinois Poison Center and its services call 1800-222-1222 or visit, www.illinoispoisoncenter.org