A few months ago, my hand shook while I dialed 1-800-222-1222 as fast as I could. My toddler had found and sucked on a piece of adult medication.
She looked fine when I found the mangled pill in her hand, but the packet insert made it explicitly clear that the product was poisonous to children.
“How much did she ingest? How much does she weigh?” the calm voice at the other end of the line asked.
The woman seemed efficient, non-judgmental and, most important of all, knowledgeable. Within seconds, she concluded, “Get her to the emergency room.”
About 20 minutes later, I repeated the facts to an emergency room doctor who turned, picked up the phone and dialed 1-800-222-1222. She, too, needed the advice of Poison Control.
There are boatloads of services for parents. Many of them are free, some of them useful. Very, very few are on par with Poison Control.
That toll-free number offers free, fast, private, expert medical advice 24/7, 365 days a year. The advisors help more than 40,000 callers in this region.
The centers — the Association of Poison Control Centers dispatch routes callers to 57 regionally-based centers — are in danger of losing funding. In March, Congress cut the federal contribution to the centers by about a quarter. Legislators are now considering deeper cuts, according to the Association.
This week, a physician writing for the New York Times described how children and teens are especially at risk for poisonings in our current medication-drenched culture. “With the proliferation of pharmaceutical products, the centers are more important than ever,” Perri Klass wrote.
In these economic times, there are many valid organizations enduring, or closing because of, slashed budgets. Just last week, I wrote about how Reading is Fundamental lost its funding. Those are distressing situations.
Poison Control is a different matter. Children will die without it.
Voluntary contributions are certainly accepted and a good idea. But with their arbitrary nature, individual contributions are not a solid funding base.
Spokeswoman Loreeta Canton said “it costs about $150 million each year to operate the nation’s 57 poison centers. Federal dollars account for about 15 percent of that total funding. The rest comes from state governments, hospitals and other nonfederal sources.”
I wonder how we parents can insure this service is protected from the whims of the stock market, the political discourse and decision-makers who may not know what it's like to have a calm, knowledgeable voice help them when their baby is in terrible danger.
Would you donate to Poison Control? If its public funding is cut further, what mechanism should be used to finance it?