In a moment of panic

One number: Collaboration by poison control centers offers improvement to life-saving services.

January 26, 2002

MR. YUK has a new phone number.

His sickly green grimace, seen by children in many central Maryland day care centers and emergency rooms, has long warned children away from toxic household products.

Now, the face of the Maryland Poison Control Center has a toll-free number: 1-800-222-1222. And in moments of panic, it will be a boon to families, childcare providers and medical professionals. Memorize it. Post it by the telephone. Stick it in your wallet.

This new hotline, a recent collaboration among the nation's 73 poison control centers, will unify poison prevention programs and connect callers from anywhere in the United States, U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico to the nearest information bank of toxicologists.

Nationally, poison centers log more than 2 million calls annually; Maryland receives about 57,000. More than half the patients served are children under age 6.

Poison center experts say the average cost of helping them by telephone is $32, and in many cases, treatment can be resolved this way. Compare that to an average of $932 if the patient seeks help through other medical systems, such as emergency rooms. It makes sense to make poison centers easier to reach.

The Maryland center gave up Prince George's and Montgomery counties when territories were carved out for the toll-free service. But center officials believe the benefit to Marylanders and others of a shared national hotline far outweighs the impact of a possible drop in the local call volume, by which its services are sometimes measured.

That's a healthy choice, and what we call good public service.

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