Americans for the first time can use a single toll-free telephone number to
reach a poison control center anywhere in the nation, officials announced
Officials launched the national hotline, 1-800-222-1222, and applauded it
as an overdue coordination of the country's 65 separately-run poison
centers. Callers dialing the number will be automatically linked to the
closest poison center.
The nation's first poison center opened in 1953, and subsequent centers
have opened on an independent basis. "Until now... nationwide poison
prevention education was hindered by the very structure by which poison
centers evolved," said Dr. Alan D. Woolf, the president of the American
Association of Poison Control Centers.
"This country's 65 centers had more than 130 individual and separate
telephone numbers," he said.
The new number is part of a $21.2 million federal effort to update poison
control centers across the country. Centers field calls on approximately
2.2 million suspected poisonings per year, mostly involving young children.
About 75% of all poisonings can be safely handled at home with the help of
a poison center aide, though 700 to 800 calls to centers per year end in
fatalities, Woolf said.
Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-NY) said that the new national hotline would "help
save lives and prevent costly trips to emergency rooms." Towns crafted the
House legislation that led to congressional approval of the centers' new money.
Half of all calls to poison centers involve preschool-age children, though
calls involving adults or elderly persons tend to be more serious.
Officials said that they would accompany their new national phone number
with a print and radio-based education campaign urging children to avoid
household poisons and urging parents to post poison control numbers near
Household cleaners and chemicals make up the bulk of poisonous substances
in homes, though perfumes, medications, and spider and animal bites can
also lead to poisoning.
Members of the public can obtain stickers, magnets, and other promotional
materials by calling the toll-free number, Woolf said.
Meanwhile, about one third of all centers will keep using the decades-old
green "Mr. Yuck" symbols to warn children about dangerous poisons in the home.
"Centers that use Yuck are continuing to use Yuck," said Toby
national director of the American Association of Poison Control Centers.