Goals & Mission of Poison Centers
The objective of poison centers is to reduce morbidity and mortality associated with poisonings. Poisons can include exposures to medications, supplements, illicit drugs, household, and industrial chemicals, environmental toxins, plants, and venomous insects and animals.
Poison Centers in the United States
Fifty-five poison centers provide services to the entire population of the United States. Poison centers are staffed 24/7/365 by medical professionals trained in poison emergencies and can be reached by any individual using the toll-free number 1-800-222-1222. Poison centers serve an important dual-role both as part of the public health infrastructure in the United States and as a service offering individual patient care assessment and management recommendations.
The first organized poison center was established in 1953 in Chicago by doctors Edward Press, M.D. and Louis Gdalman, R.Ph. in response to national recognition on the impact of childhood poisonings in the United States. Doctor Press, a pediatrician, and Doctor Gdalman, a pharmacist, collected information on standard forms and providing medical advice to healthcare professions through a telephone hotline.
Within two years the program was replicated in several other locations, and it became clear that these small poison centers were not sharing collected information or management experiences. In 1957 the Surgeon General created the National Clearinghouse for Poison Control Centers which allowed for standardized data collection and compilation as well as dissemination of a set of standardized 5"x8” index cards containing poison management to the various centers. This, alongside the 1957 publication Clinical Toxicology of Commercial Products, which provided information on over 25000 products and treatments on over 50 compounds provided the first organized resource for management of poison emergencies. In 1958 at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) was founded.
The 1960s and 1970s saw a rapid expansion of poison centers throughout the country through the composition, staffing, guidelines and recommendations, and services provided varied greatly from one center to another. Some centers only managed calls from healthcare professions, other from the lay public, and still others from both. The calls were answered by various individuals ranging from clerks to physicians, pharmacists, veterinarians, to anyone with a remote interest or expertise in poison emergencies.
By 1978 the United States had 661 poison centers, and due to the aforementioned lack of consistency from center to center, several organizations including the AAPCC called for fewer and better staffed and organized centers called “Regional Centers.” These large centers provided more consistent staffing, training, public and professional education, data collection, and recommendations for poison emergencies. The Toxic Exposure Surveillance System (TESS) came into being in 1985 which allowed poison centers to share uniformly collected data for toxicosurveillance.
The year 2001 saw the introduction of a toll-free number (1-800-222-1222) that routed phone calls to local, regional poison centers based on the caller’s zip code. This toll-free number made poison center services universally accessible to every American.
Finally, in 2006 the National Poison Database System (NPDS) replaced TESS, which provided a more robust data collection, transmission, and analysis for all poison centers and their partners.  NPDS is the current database in use today by all 55 poison centers and continues to serve an important role in poison center and public health operations.
Poison Center Organization
Core Functions of a Poison Center
There are five core functions common to all poison centers.
Value of Poison Centers
Poison centers have evolved to serve a unique and key role in both direct patient care and public health. They serve as an easily accessible and cost-effective resource for healthcare professionals and the public alike and provide access to the most up to date and evidence-based information on exposures to poison. Finally, the ongoing robust data gathering has significant potential to assist in the understanding of the evolving public health crisis of drug abuse and drug-related deaths that exists in the United States. Clinicians are encouraged to continue to use poison center services and report all poison exposures.
The nation-wide local poison center number is 1-800-222-1222.
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