I have the great fortune to work side by side with the smart folks at the Minnesota Poison Control Center, which is housed right here in my hospital.  Each year we try to do a service to the community by higJon Cole studiohlighting National Poison Prevention week, which is going on right now.   Dr. Jon Cole is the Medical Director of the Poison Center, and Kirk Hughes is the Education Director.  You won’t find two more dedicated experts than these two guys – and I was happy to have them on the Healthy Matters broadcast this week.  That’s Dr. Cole’s smiling face on the left and Kirk below – bright and early on a Sunday morning.   Now wouldn’t you want this guy to be the one helping you?

Listen to the podcast of the show here by clicking the logo here –> .logo_healthy-matters

I encourage you to click the link to the Minnesota Poison Center.  It is a site loaded with information, including tip sheets that you can download for your own use.

My own daughter and the iron tablets

First my personal tale of woe.  I mentioned on the radio show about a brush with poisoning with our own daughter.  The story is a scary one for any parent . . . our little one was just 1 or 2 years old when we found her on the floor with an open bottle of iron tablets, some of them spilled out.  We had no idea if she had swallowed any of them.  Yikes.   Iron tablets don’t sound all that bad, right?  But these common supplements are really dangerous in overdose for the wee ones.  So we took her to a doctor and she had to have a x-ray (to look for the pills in her digestive system).  Thankfully she was all right, but today we would have called 1-800-222-1222 and talked to the poison experts.

What I learned about poison prevention

Here are just a few of the things our listeners learned from Dr. Cole and Kirk (that’s Kirk in the picture below – he’s a guy with a head-full of knowledge from his career as a nurse, a basic EMT, and a poison prevention educator).  And down below, look for a neat video of Kirk in action with a grateful parent.  It’s worth a few minutes.

  • The most important thing of all – know this number.  1-800-222-1222.  This is the number for the Poison Center, and the beauty of it is that it is valid nationwide.  The system will direct your call to the Poison Center nearest you, based on thKirk Hughes studioe area code you are calling from (or the area code of your cell phone).
  • Calling the Poison Center number is the first thing you should do if you have a question about poisoning – unless you or a child is experiencing chest pain, difficulty breathing, or seizures.  In that case, call 911.
  • It doesn’t have to be an emergency – call if you simply have a question.
  • In the vast majority of cases (>90% of the time), the experts at the Poison Center can safely get you advice and treatment recommendations while you stay at home.  It is highly likely that you can avoid a trip to the Emergency Department or clinic by calling them first.
  • Program the number into your cell phone under Poison Center!

A word about keeping kids safe

More than half the calls to Poison Centers involve children under the age of six, and the problems are usually right in their own homes.  Kirk and Dr. Cole told us that there are several reasons why kids are at risk in the home.  Could these happen at your house?

  • Poisons are not stored properly.  Keep them up high, in original containers, well out of reach of curious minds.  Grandparents, your home may have your pills out on the counter or bathroom sink where you won’t forget them.  But if little ones come to visit, it takes just a second for them to grab them and swallow them.  Keep your grandchildren safe by keeping the medications out of sight!
  • Children are naturally curious.  Pills look like candy.  Spray bottles look interesting.  Brightly colored liquids look pretty.  But all can be deadly.
  • Many poisonous liquids look and smell like something safe to drink.  Fuels, cough syrups, even shampoo are like this.  Keep them out of sight and not accessible to kids.
  • Children imitate adults.  They see you taking medications or drinking liquids, they are certain to try to do the same.

This all sounds like common sense but in reality, many if not most of our homes are not particularly safe for children.  So if you have kids coming to visit, think of how to keep them safe.  It just takes a second when you are not paying attention for a kid to get into something that is really dangerous to them.  In my little story of my daughter’s scare with iron tablets, we failed to do these simple things.  Now I know better!

What about good ‘ol syrup of ipecac?

Lots of us probably still have an old crusty bottle of syrup of ipecac in our cabinets, especially if you are a bit older.  Well get rid of it!  It is no longer recommended to use ipecac to get kids or adults to vomit.  If fact, you should not even keep it in your home.  Ipecac is yesterday’s news.  Today, call 1-800-222-1222 instead.

Final thoughts

Poison prevention is a huge topic that I could never cover in a blog post such as this.  Rather, I hope to have provoked you to think a little bit more about keeping ourselves and our kids safe.

A listener to our Poison Prevention show on Healthy Matters posed the simple but really good question – just what is considered a poison?   I learned that a poison can be darn near anything – medications, cleaning supplies, fumes in the air, plants in your garden.  I also learned that poisoning is the leading cause of injury death in the United States.

Here’s that video of Kirk Hughes in action, about a family far away from a hospital but who did the right thing and called the Poison Center:

A final word on the Poison Control system in the United States.   Poison Centers are available to you:

  • Anytime.  24/7, including holidays
  • Anywhere.  Call from home, school, business.  Anywhere in the country.
  • Anyone.  Whether you are a concerned parent, a caregiver, a senior, a teenager, a teacher, a clinician – experts are there to help you.

And it comes free of charge to you.  

1-800-222-1222.  It’s a number you should know.