What's Your Poison?

As told by Marina Monsisvais

Teenagers have the highest intentional exposure to poison among all age groups.

Teenagers have the highest intentional exposure to poison among all age groups.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Poison Prevention Week, an initiative started by the U.S. Congress in 1961 to raise awareness, reduce unintentional poisonings and promote poison prevention.

Second to immunization programs, poison centers are the most cost-effective public health programs, said Stephen W. Borron, M.D., professor of emergency medicine and toxicology at the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine.

"It’s important to realize and note that 70 percent of the calls made to a poison center are safely managed at home,” said Borron, who is also a consultant for the West Texas Regional Poison Center at University Medical Center in El Paso. “To avoid emergency room visits, the West Texas Regional Poison Center has specialists that manage these calls at no cost. Not only do we tell callers what to do, we also follow up and monitor their progress."

The West Texas Regional Poison Center is the country’s only 24-hour fully bilingual regional poison center certified by the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Center employees oversee 36 counties in West Texas.

Emilio Saenz, program and research development manager for the center, said teens age 13 to 19 have the highest intentional exposure to poison. It is for this reason that parents should keep all medication locked up and out of reach of children and teens.

“Although no one likes to think that their child might be taking their medication, it happens,” Saenz said. “Sometimes they take it and sell it or combine it with alcohol, which should also be locked up.”

Small children have the highest poison incident rate, but the lowest mortality rate. To help prevent accidental poisonings in young children, Leo Artalejo III, Pharm.D., director of the West Texas Regional Poison Center offers some poison prevention tips:

  • Stand on your knees to gain a child’s perspective and put medication, automotive products and gardening products out of reach.
  • Keep medications out of purses and in their original containers.
  • Adults must read medication labels and follow instructions. Don’t self medicate or take larger dosages than recommended on the bottle.

If you have live in West Texas and have a poison emergency, call the West Texas Regional Poison Center at (800) 222-1222.

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Division of Medical Toxicology

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The Division of Medical Toxicology at the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine is responsible for the medical direction of clinical services at the West Texas Regional Poison Center, the Medical Toxicology Clinic and the Medical Toxicology Consultation Services at University Medical Center in El Paso.

In addition, the division hosts residents for a 30-day rotation where they are introduced to the field of medical toxicology and to the laboratory methods by which toxicological studies are performed.