Children Act Fast … So Do Poisons!

National Poison Prevention Week is March 18-24

March 05, 2001

Potentially lethal drugs can look like harmless candy to a child, and that's one reason the Finger Lakes Regional Poison Control and Drug Information Center is trying to spread the word about National Poison Prevention Week, which starts March 18.

The special week was created by an act of Congress and signed into law in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy. The goal is to encourage local communities to raise awareness about the severe consequences that can result from poisoning.

Progress is being made in the quest to educate the public. In 1972, more than 200 children younger than 5 died from exposure to medicines and household products; by 1996, that number was reduced to 47. During the same time frame, deaths from aspirin among children younger than five have been reduced from 46 to just one.

Children, however, are still ingesting and being exposed to potentially harmful substances. The American Association of Poison Control Centers reports that in 1998 there were more than 1 million children age 5 or younger who were exposed to potentially poisonous substances.

"Young children are experiencing growth and development, and they are constantly investigating their surroundings," says John Benitez, M.D., M.P.H., managing director of the Finger Lakes Regional Poison Control and Drug Information Center. "Although we wouldn't want to discourage this normal behavior, we have to be aware that children have a tendency to put household items in their mouths that don't belong."

Benitez offers the following tips to help parents prevent poisoning emergencies:

  • Keep household chemicals and medicines locked up and out of children's reach.
  • Never let children out of sight when these products are in use - even for a moment.
  • Store all medicines and household products in original containers, away from food.
  • Never call medicine "candy," and avoid taking your medicine in front of children. They love to imitate adults.
  • Clean the medicine cabinet from time to time, disposing of outdated medicine by flushing it down the toilet and rinsing the container before throwing it out.

The Finger Lakes Regional Poison Control and Drug Information Center serves Monroe, Ontario, Livingston, Seneca, Steuben, Wyoming, Yates, Schuyler and Chemung counties.

When calling any poison center, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends providing information regarding the victim's age, weight, and previous health conditions. Also, give a description of the substance involved and how the child came in contact with it, and any first aid that may have been given.

To speak with a specialist at the Center, call 1-800-333-0542. In Rochester, the Center can be reached at 275-3232, or at TTY number 273-3854. The Center is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week by registered nurses and pharmacists who are specialists in clinical toxicology and by physicians specialized in medical toxicology. They will answer questions confidentially, and the service is free.

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