"It's my daughter! She's licked the coatings off an entire bottle of aspirin!" says a frantic mother over the phone. "What should I do?"
The poison information specialist quickly decides the best way to calm the woman and help the child.
"Please, ma'am, you need to calm down and I'll ask you some questions to find out if it's a problem or not," the specialist says.
Accidental poisoning is not unusual in the home, according to specialist Lisa Boove of the Maryland Poison Center. Of 34,373 emergency phone calls made to the MPC in 1991, 92.4 percent listed a residence as the site of exposure. Poisons can be found in nearly every room of the house, she says, which is especially dangerous when the young or drowsy reach for the wrong bottle.
The MPC, now in its 20th year as a division of the School of Pharmacy at the University of Maryland, operates two free emergency telephone lines 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
As a part of National Poison Prevention Week (March 15 to 22) the center hopes to get its message to as many people as possible, says the director, Wendy Klein-Schwartz. "One of our messages is that the Poison Center exists and is a service that should be used.
While poisoning is usually associated with kids, physicians also warn that accidental poisoning or overdose may occur when taking prescription medicines, especially among the elderly.
Accidental poisoning can be prevented with a few simple guidelines toward poison-proofing your home.:
* Keep medicines in their original containers. Children associate bottles and cups with drinking.
* Be sure to refasten "child-proof" safety caps after each use.
* Put all potentially harmful products out of reach of children; products should be stored away from food. The best way to protect children is to lock all cabinets that contain dangerous chemicals.
* Discard all out-of-date medicines. The chemicals in medicines will change as they age, possibly making good medicine harmful. Old drugs should be flushed down the toilet and their containers rinsed before they are thrown away.
* Never remove original labels from potentially dangerous chemicals and be sure to read the label before using. The dosage must be followed strictly for the medicine to have the desired effect. Even aspirin can be harmful in excess.
* The Outreach Department of Franklin Square Hospital will present a seminar on the hazards of taking prescription drugs improperly, at Parkville Senior Center, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday. It is open to the public. Call: (410) 682-7483.
* The Maryland Poison Center's information and emergency hot lines are (410) 528-7701 (metropolitan Baltimore) and (800) 492-2414 (elsewhere in Maryland.)
Maryland Poison Center
(410) 528-7701 (metropolitan Baltimore) (800) 492-2414 (elsewhere in Maryland.)