The head of a Denver-based national poison control association issued a dire warning about a proposed move to cut funding to the federal poison control program, saying the move to cut millions from the system would be “devastating”.
Richard Dart, MD, Ph., and president of the American Association of Poison Control Centers, was responding to the House of Representatives’ plan announced last week to cut approximately $27 million from the federal poison control program. The plan, which would take effect after March 4 of this year.
The Centers for Disease Control states that accidental poisoning is the second-leading cause of unintentional injury death in the U.S., second only to auto accidents. In 2009, U.S. poison centers received more than four million calls from people seeing information on exposure to a wide variety of poisonious substances, from carbon monoxide to snake bites to food poisoning.
The CDC adds that every day in the U.S., nearly 82 people die as a result of unintentional poisoning, and another 1,941 are treated in emergency departments.
“For decades, the public has relied on poison centers to offer advice on how to treat exposures to the deadliest of substances,” said Dart, who is also the director of the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center in Denver. “This move would be beyond devastating for public health.”
Alvin Bronstein, acting director of toxicosurveillance for the AAPCC and medical director of the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center, added that not only do poison control centers deal with the after effects of poisoning, but they work to detect threats to the public
“Without poison centers, Americans will lack a key tool in detecting biological, chemical and other emerging threats to public health.”
Recent potential poison threats examined by the nation’s poison control centers include the H1N1 flu pandemic and the health threat posed by the Gulf oil spill. The centers have also probed the toxic effects of synthetic marijuana and even the potentially harmful effects of products marketed as bath salts.
Jim Hirt, executive director of the American Association of Poison Control Centers, said that national poison centers were able to advise and treat poison victims while they were at home, eliminating the need to go to a hospital. The hotlines also received calls from health professionals themselves, further pointing to the need to keep funding at their current levels he said.
“In 2009, more than 16 percent of all poison center exposure calls came from a health care facility,” Hirt explained, “meaning doctors, nurses and other medical professionals rely upon the poison center for professional advice. If that line goes dead, it will be disastrous.”
“For centers already facing budgetary pressure, the loss of federal funding will mean certain closure,” Dart said. “The costs of this cut would ultimately far exceed the $27 million saved.”