Poison Control Center at your fingertips

A poison control center is an informational hotline that instructs people on what to do if they swallow, inhale, get splashed with, or are stung by something that is poisonous to the human body.

All services are provided at no cost to the public and – through prevention, education, and treatment – these centers are community assets that protect and save Pennsylvanians every day.

The Pittsburgh Poison Center is staffed 24/7/365 by registered nurses and pharmacists who are specially trained to provide poison exposure information, determine urgency, and make treatment recommendations. When additional consultation is required, our staff works with attending physicians and fellows who are affiliated with the UPMC Toxicology Program – the region’s largest Center for Poison Treatment.

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PA Poison Centers by the Numbers

Here’s a snapshot of how Pennsylvania Poison Centers measured up in 2022:

  • More than 13 million residents in all 67 counties across Pennsylvania were able to access services.
  • Pennsylvania Poison Center staff managed 78,022 cases regarding human exposure to poisons, drugs, and toxins.
  • Poison Center activities prevented more than $62 million in charges for emergency health care visits and EMS activation.
  • Over 93% of calls were able to be managed from home, without requiring a hospital visit by the caller after speaking with staff.

“The overall impact of the Pittsburgh Poison Center is difficult to measure,” says Pittsburgh Poison Center Director Amanda Korenoski, PharmD. “Our services help to prevent poisoning; provide reassurance to countless families; avoid unnecessary health care visits; reduce hospital lengths of stay; respond to public health emergencies; as well as educate the lay public and health care providers alike on the recognition and response to poisoning events.”

The Pittsburgh Poison Center conducts a caller satisfaction survey, asking what the caller likely would have done had they been unable to call the Center: 7.3% of callers say they would wait for symptoms to worsen, while 22.1% say they would search the internet for answers.

“A very important part of what we do is combat misinformation that is often found online and provide reliable health care recommendations to those who need our help,” says Dr. Korenoski.

 PA Poison Centers in the Community

Here are just a few of the ways PA Poison Centers have served the community this year:

Education/Mr. Yuk®

Since 1971, the Pittsburgh Poison Center has educated the public on poison safety primarily through Mr. Yuk®, the first poison education symbol in the nation. Each year, millions of Mr. Yuk stickers are distributed around the world, and corporations frequently place his face on the product labels of hazardous materials.

Combatting the opioid epidemic

In a state hit hard by the opioid crisis, Pennsylvania is using its Poison Centers to fight back through:

  • Community education programs that demonstrate opioid overdose responses, treatments, and resources.
  • Medical education that contributes to the development and delivery of new medical and pharmacy school curriculums, including pain management, opioid prescribing, and overdose and addiction treatment.
  • Public health surveillance that notifies relevant parties of new opioids, other drugs of abuse, and overdose events.
  • Partnership with law enforcement to gather intelligence and provide consultation when requested.
  • Naloxone distribution and training to provide education on naloxone availability, distribution, and appropriate use.
  • Collaboration with health care facilities, EMS, and first responders regarding processes to distribute and prescribe naloxone.
  • The Warm Handoff Program – a 24/7 phone line that screens individuals with substance use disorders, directs treatment of withdrawal, enhances access to naloxone, and provides connection to county agencies and treatment providers.

Providing aid for the East Palestine train derailment

A freight train carrying hazardous materials derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 3, 2023. East Palestine is just over a mile from the Pennsylvania border and about 50 miles from Pittsburgh, so the Pittsburgh Poison Center partnered with the Ohio Poison Centers to provide support.

“This was a prime example of the important role poison centers play in a public health emergency,” says Dr. Korenoski. “We were able to respond very quickly because our staff are trained in the toxicity of these substances and are available to the public 24/7.”

The center aided the public and health care providers on 212 exposures and 74 general questions. A dedicated East Palestine Train Derailment Support Line also was established, through which callers were directly connected to their area’s poison center.

Pittsburgh Poison Center data – including distance from derailment, symptoms experienced, severity/duration of symptoms, and whether treatment was sought – was shared in real-time with public health agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Agency on Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the PA Department of Health.

For concerned callers from the public, Pittsburgh Poison Center’s specialists in poison information (SPIs) – who are nurses and clinical pharmacists trained in medical toxicology – medical toxicologists, and emergency medicine physicians provided recommendations on monitoring and treatment.

The teams at the Pittsburgh and Ohio Poison Centers also wrote the initial clinical treatment guidelines for health care providers, eventually co-branded with several other public health agencies. These guidelines were updated several times as the centers learned more about the derailment and the observed symptoms.

“As a nonprofit organization that delivers specialized medical care and advice to the public at no cost, state funding is critical to continuing our lifesaving work – yet it makes up only a quarter of our budget,” Dr. Korenoski says.

Learn more about the Pittsburgh Poison Center

Anyone can call the Pittsburgh Poison Center after an exposure or to ask questions about the toxicity of any substance. If you or someone else may be experiencing a poison-related emergency, please call the Poison Center’s 24-Hour Emergency line at 1-800-222-1222.

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Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

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