New Yorkers Have Much to Lose if Legacy Poison Center Closes

Apr. 20, 2010
Center provides emergency hotline and community education to 12 counties

The Ruth A. Lawrence Poison and Drug Information Center, housed inside Strong Memorial Hospital, was the first poison center in the nation to answer safety questions from the general public about poisons and drugs. Gov. David Paterson has issued a proposal to cut poison centers in New York State, in an effort to save money in the state budget, which puts the 54-year-old Finger Lakes poison center in jeopardy.

“For every dollar spent on the poison center, $20 is saved in health care costs,” said Ruth Lawrence, M.D., professor of Pediatrics and Neonatology at Golisano Children’s Hospital at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) and medical director of the Ruth A. Lawrence Poison and Drug Information Center.

Many unnecessary, costly ED visits are averted as a direct result of the poison center’s hotline, which provides advice from medical experts 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The poison center acts as the referral center for 12 counties in the Finger Lakes Region, most of which are rural and do not have nearby access to medical care.

“There is a lot of misinformation on websites, which puts us in worse trouble than ever,” said Lawrence. Callers to the hotline can speak with medical experts directly, who often have to correct misconceptions perpetuated online that could be dangerous and even deadly.

The poison center is a vital institution for raising poison and drug awareness throughout the Finger Lakes Region. Public educators from the center participate in 49 health fairs and 44 presentations annually to promote poison and drug safety. They also travel to schools throughout the Finger Lakes Region and train teachers, school nurses and children about how to prevent poisoning mishaps like mistaking a poisonous substance for candy or a sports drink.

Medical residents from URMC’s ED, Pediatrics and Internal Medicine Departments train in the poison center, which teaches them how to provide toxicology care advice poisoned patients. In addition to answering calls about human- and animal-related poisonings, medical experts on the hotline offer breastfeeding and lactation consultations and address children’s environmental health concerns. The center also answered a number of calls during H1N1 flu outbreak, since most doctors’ offices did not have information available during evenings, weekends and holidays, as the poison center does.

The Ruth A. Lawrence Poison and Drug Information Center has been a model for poison prevention centers nationwide for more than half a century. “And a lot of services continue to depend on our center,” said Lawrence.