Health & Safety Institute Blog

March 18, 2014

Poisoning: Prevention and Emergency Care

PoisonPrevention CheckLabelNational Poison Prevention Week is March 16-22, 2014. According to the Poison Prevention Week Council:

“More than 2 million poisonings are reported each year to the 57 poison control centers across the country. More than 90 percent of these poisonings occur in the home. The majority of non-fatal poisonings occur in children younger than six years old. And, poisonings are one of the leading causes of death among adults.”


In addition to their annual children’s contest to create poison awareness posters (you can see the winners here), the Council also provide a tip sheet with more than 50 ways to prevent poisonings, such as:

  • Install safety latches on cabinets used for medicines and household products.
  • Ensure children can’t use chairs or stack items to climb to products stored out of their reach.
  • Re-close medicines and other household products if interrupted during use. Many incidents happen when adults are distracted when using these products (e.g., by the telephone or the doorbell).
  • Buy products in child-resistant packaging whenever possible. But remember, child-resistant is not childproof, and is designed to keep children away from the product for a short time before a parent notices.
  • Once purchased, use child-resistant packaging properly by closing the container tightly after each use.
  • If you think someone has been poisoned, call Poison Help,1-800-222-1222, to reach your local poison center. This national toll-free number works anywhere in the U.S. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
  • Keep the toll-free Poison Help number, 1-800-222-1222, near your phone, or program 1-800-222-1222 into your home and mobile phone.
  • When you leave your children in a babysitter’s care, ensure he/she knows about the Poison Help number – 1-800-222-1222.
  • Read medicine and product labels before each use and follow directions exactly.
  • Teach children to always ask an adult before eating, drinking or touching anything.

You can download the PDF here.

When a poisoning occurs

By far, poisoning most often occurs by ingestion. Most poisoning deaths in children are accidental, while most deaths in adults are intentional. Common ingested poisons include pain medications, personal care products, and household cleaning products.

The effects of ingested poisons are wide ranging and often resemble those of common illnesses. Abdominal pain or cramping, nausea, and vomiting may occur. A person may also have an altered mental status.

Often, the ingestion is described by the person. Open and empty containers, unusual smells, and odd staining on clothes, skin, or lips may be present.

If you suspect a person has ingested something poisonous, act quickly. Activate EMS if the person is displaying any serious signs or symptoms. Keep the person still. Calm, comfort, and reassure him or her.

In the United States, calling the National Poison Help Hotline at 1-800-222-1222 automatically transfers a caller to a regional poison control center. Poison centers can quickly provide information regarding the immediate treatment for any substance.

A provider can help EMS providers and the poison center by clearly identifying the substance and providing details about the incident. Save any vomit, bottles, or containers for EMS.

Do not induce vomiting, or give water, milk, or activated charcoal to the person unless you are advised to do so by the poison control center or EMS.

Reassess the person regularly until another provider or EMS personnel takes over.

The use, or overuse, of alcohol, drugs, or medications can result in serious life-threatening problems. A diminished mental status can result in the loss of an airway. Breathing can become depressed and stop. Vomiting can occur. Activate EMS and provide any indicated priority care.

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