Institute of Medicine: National Poison Prevention System Needed

04/21/04    Portland, Ore.

OHSU chairman of emergency medicine co-authors poison control and prevention report

Poisoning is a much larger health problem than previously thought. More than 4 million poisonings occur in the United States annually and some 30,800 people die as a result. Poisoning-related injuries and deaths cost the nation about $12.6 billion a year, yet no coordinated, organized system exists for its prevention and control.

Today the Institute of Medicine (IOM) issued a report recommending the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services establish and fund a national Poison Prevention and Control System to stabilize and provide long-term support for poison prevention and control services.

"Poison control centers are a vital element in the management of poisonings, but are funded in a patchwork manner and inadequately linked to public health programs at the state and regional level. As in Oregon, poison control centers are struggling nationally for needed resources and important linkages that can ameliorate poisoning-related injuries and deaths," said Jerris Hedges, M.D., chairman of emergency medicine in the Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine and member of the Committee on Poison Prevention and Control who wrote the report.

Sixty-three largely independent poison control centers serve the entire United States. The centers are funded primarily by federal, state and local resources, making them susceptible to frequent fiscal challenges and budget adjustments. There is no mechanism by which sharing of strategies and resources can take place, and there are no effective links to the nation's public health system, the committee concluded.

To remedy these problems, the report asks Congress to amend the current Poison Control Center Enhancement and Awareness Act of 2004 and provide funding that adequately supports the proposed new national system. Support for a defined set of core activities at the current level of service will require more than $100 million annually, the committee reports, with additional funding each year to ensure all essential services are accomplished.

"The Oregon Poison Center, like other centers throughout the country, has struggled to maintain the resources necessary to continue our vital service. This important report recognizes poison centers as an essential public health service. We are hopeful the recommendations will lead to support for the comprehensive poison center system that we have always envisioned," said Sandy Giffin, R.N., M.S., department director of the Oregon Poison Center.

For a copy of the report, "Forging a Poison Prevention and Control System," contact Christine Stencel, Institute of Medicine, National Academies, 202 334-1632 or cstencel@nas.edu.

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