Fund the poison center Public health issue: Keeping up with hot-line calls takes toll on education, outreach.

March 16, 1997

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS ago, when the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy opened a poison center in the basement of one of its buildings, the program was intended primarily as a training opportunity for students. Within five years it had become the Maryland Poison Center, the designated information source for citizens around the state who needed quick, reliable information about potentially dangerous substances.

The calls have been pouring in ever since -- more than 54,000 in 1995 alone. That year, the center managed more than 35,000 poisoning cases. Significantly, some 70 percent of them were handled safely at home -- at enormous savings in the cost of emergency room care.

For Maryland residents in the suburban Washington area, the National Capital Poison Center managed another 10,000 poisoning or overdose cases. Looking at the combined figures from the two centers, experts estimate that at least 15,000 Marylanders are using emergency rooms and other costly health care services in poison cases. In contrast, a call to a poison center is quick, reliable and, in most cases, much less expensive.

The Maryland Poison Center depends on state funding, but with budget crunches and the press of other needs, the allocations have not kept pace with the demand. The School of Pharmacy has tried to compensate, but its resources are not sufficient to meet the existing needs. Nor should the school have to. The Maryland Poison Center's hot-line saves millions of dollars each year and meets a clear and compelling public health need.

With an adequate budget -- the center is seeking an additional $474,000 from the state -- it could undertake outreach and education efforts that were curtailed during the recession. Those efforts could save the state many more millions of dollars -- not to mention saving families, especially parents of young children, from potentially tragic situations.

The Maryland Poison Center's budgetary needs are small in comparison with the good it does each day. It deserves a boost from the governor and General Assembly.

Pub Date: 3/16/97

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