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National Poison Prevention Week 2024




During the third week of March, National Poison Prevention Week aims to raise awareness about the dangers of poisonings. A poison is any substance that can cause harmful effects in the body, including death.

Let’s start with this important piece of information: the Poison Help Line number is 1-800-222-1222.

This is a national, 24/7/365 free, confidential help line and you can call even if you just have questions, but definitely call when something unexpected happens. This is a service of America’s Poison Centers and they also have downloadable safety checklists on their website www.poisoncenters.org.

They can help with questions regarding medications, cleaning products, insect bites, food poisoning – anything that you are concerned could be a poison danger, call them! Language assistance is available through an interpretation link, so once connected with a specialist ask them for your preferred language.

There is also a website – www.poisonhelp.org – where you can check out information and learn more about poisons and prevention. I should note that these resources do not handle anything related to pets.

There are plenty of things around that are obviously hazardous, like household cleaners, weed-killer, oils and fuels, and anti-freeze. But there are also a lot of poisonous ingredients in items we might not expect to be dangerous or think about needing to store carefully out of the reach of kids or pets. These are common household items like air freshener, dish soap, even cosmetics, perfume, and personal care products, including toothpaste, hair products, and hand sanitizer.

Some things that are meant to enhance our health can become poisonous when used incorrectly or an overdose occurs – think of vitamins and supplements and even food. We talk a lot about food safety and have resources on our environmental health pages, but vitamins and supplements can be toxic when taken in excess, and it would be very easy for children to take too much, especially if they are left on a table or counter and especially when they come in an attractive form like a gummy!

And just because something is natural, does not mean it is safe. There are plenty of herbs and plants that are completely inedible, and then there are plants that have some edible part(s) but the rest is poisonous – like the common potato! The tuber is edible, but the roots, stems, leaves, flowers, and berries are all toxic, and even the tuber is toxic when green. I didn’t know potato plants have berries and they look like small green tomatoes but are poisonous. This is important information for people who have house plants or garden and kids or pets are present.

Sadly, the leading cause of poisoning is drug overdose. According to the National Safety Council, risk of death from poisoning is higher than risk of dying in an auto accident. Also, while almost half of calls to poison control centers are about young children, emergency department visits and deaths overwhelmingly occur among people over 19 years old. Opioid overdoses, especially, have caused those numbers to continue to rise almost every year. However, Acetaminophen overdose is the leading cause of accidental and intentional poisoning and is one of the most common drugs used in suicide attempts – 75% of patients hospitalized for acetaminophen overdose are 15-19 years old.

This means it is very important to make sure all medications – prescription and OTC – are taken according to instructions, that they are stored in the original packaging with all the pertinent information including warnings, and they are stored where they are not easily accessible to children, pets, or visitors.

It is also imperative to properly dispose of any medications that are expired or are no longer being used. Most medicines are harmful if they enter the water system so they should not be flushed down the drain. The best way to dispose of medications is through a drug take back program. In our region, there are permanent medication collection boxes located at police stations or sheriff’s offices and at some of the hospitals and pharmacies. A complete list and map of locations can be found online by searching “drug takeback boxes near me.” There are also sometimes certain days of the year when there may be a sponsored event and those are usually advertised or you can search online by zip code.

If there is no take-back location available, you can dispose of most medicines in household trash – but this also must be done properly: remove drugs from their containers, mix with something undesirable (cat litter, used coffee grounds, even dirt is recommended), put this mixture in a sealable container, and put it in the trash. You should also remove all personal information from the packaging before throwing that away.

A very few medicines can be flushed and those should have that information written on the label or patient information sheet, and a list can be found on the FDA “flush list” (www.fda.gov). Medicines on this flush list are sought-after for their potential for misuse/abuse, and can result in death from one dose if taken inappropriately, so must be disposed of immediately. But don’t flush medicines that are not on the list.

The myColorado™ app (available on App Store and Google Play), as well as the CDPHE website have the information about the Colorado Medication Takeback program and locations. That web address is www.cdphe.gov.

If you do experience a possible poisoning event with a pet, there are a couple of options to call. ASPCA has a poison control hotline and there is the Pet Poison Helpline – there are fees for these services, but if you cannot get in touch with your regular vet, this could be a lifesaver for your pet.

Most poisonings happen in the home, and can happen in the blink of eye. You want your home to be your safe space, so when you are doing your spring cleaning, you might need to rearrange some items, take time to clear out the unused and expired medications, put the Poison Helpline number in a prominent place, and maybe print out some of the safety checklists. Again, that Poison Helpline number is 1-800-222-1222.

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