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Maintain Funding for Poison Control Centers


How big is the problem?

In 1997, 81 children ages 14 years and under died due to unintentional poisoning. Of these deaths, more than 50% were children ages 5 and younger (1). In 1998, more than 2.2 million human poison exposures were reported to poison control centers in the United States--almost fifty-three percent, or more than one million, of these poisoning victims were children ages 5 and under (2). More than 90 percent of all poison exposures occur in homes (2).

Policies & Details

1. Governments should maintain funding for poison control centers.

2. In all geographic areas, the public should be able to access poison information via a toll-free telephone number.

Poison control centers are staffed on a 24 hour basis, 365 days a year by toxicologists and specialists in poison information who respond to calls from the general public as well as health care providers for immediate information and treatment advice about poisonings. They provide expert emergency advice without charge, offer early telephone triage of poisoning cases, assist parents and caretakers in managing simple exposures at home, and recommend hospital evaluation for patients suspected of serious exposure (3). Each year more than 2 million callers seek telephone assistance from staff at poison control centers throughout the United States (2). Clearly, poison control centers contribute invaluable services to public health.

Prior to managed care, most poison control centers were funded by private or public sector hospitals where the poison center was physically located. Frequently, they were financially strapped and continually sought long-term funding and support to serve their target population. With the increased presence of managed care, many poison control centers lost their main source of funding, and they were only able to partially replace this money with state and/or private funding. This shortage of funding forced many centers to reduce their services, often resulting in callers getting busy signals or being placed on hold for unacceptable periods of time (4).

In February 2000, President Clinton signed into law the Poison Control Center Enhancement and Awareness Act. The law mandates the establishment of a nationwide toll-free phone number to be used to access regional poison control centers. A nationwide media campaign will be conducted to increase awareness about poison control centers and the new toll-free phone number. In addition, $25 million a year has been allocated in grants to regional poison control centers for the purpose of achieving the financial stability of these centers to continue providing prevention and treatment recommendations for poisonings. Funding under this act is authorized for fiscal years 2000 through 2004 (5). Although this act is a great step forward in the continued financial viability of poison control centers, at this time the funds have only been authorized, but not yet appropriated. There still exists the need for additional stable funding to maintain, increase and improve poison control center services.


Poison control centers are cost efficient and economical. More than 70% of their cases are resolved over the telephone while the patient remains at home or at the site of exposure (2). This eliminates unnecessary emergency room visits, ambulance use, hospital admissions and treatment delays. Miller and Lestina estimate that poison control centers reduced the number of emergency department and physician office visits for poisoning cases in 1992 by approximately 350,000 and poisoning hospitalizations by 40,000 (6). For every dollar spent on poison control centers, $7 in medical costs are saved (5). If every American had access to a certified poison control center, an additional $545 million in medical costs would be saved annually (7).


Rose Ann Soloway, RN, MSEd, ABAT,
Associate Director
American Association of Poison Control Centers
3201 New Mexico Ave., NW, Suite 310
Washington D.C. 20016
Fax: 202-362-8377


1. Office of Statistics and Programming, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC. Unintentional Poisoning Deaths and Rates per 100,000. Available Online: http://, April 12, 2000.

2. Litovitz, TL, et al. 1998 Annual Report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers Toxic Exposure Surveillance System. American Journal of Emergency Medicine, 17: 435-487, 1999.

3. Children's Safety Network, National Injury Data Technical Assistance Center. Ten Things You Can Do To Save a Child's Life. #5-Fund poison control centers. February 15, 2000.

4. The Poison Center Enhancement and Awareness Act of 1999. Overview., March 8, 2000.

5. Poison Control Center Enhancement and Awareness Act. Public Law 106-174. February 25, 2000.

6. Miller, TR and Lestina, DC. Costs of Poisoning in the United States and Savings From Poison Control Centers: A Benefit-Cost Analysis. Annals of Emergency Medicine, 29 (2): 239-245, 1997.

7. Miller, TR. The Costs of Poisoning and the Savings from Poison Control Centers: A Benefit-Cost Analysis, Testimony to Human Resources and Intergovernmental Relations Subcommittee, House Committee on Government Operations, March 15, 1994.

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Last modified: 3-August-2000.