Take a peek under your kitchen sink, at the shelves in your garage, and in your medicine cabinet. You likely have substances that obviously could be harmful (like prescription medications and cleaning chemicals) as well as others that you probably wouldn’t consider an issue (like the bottle of ear drops you use occasionally or the fruity-smelling hand sanitizer). But what if you mistake the ear drops for your eye drops? Or your grandkid thinks the hand sanitizer is candy and takes a sip?
Oftentimes people don’t realize that many common household products can pose a poisoning risk. Even substances that seem safe may not be if they’re used by other people, in incorrect amounts, or through different routes (like eating instead of applying to the skin). Accordingly, poison centers across the United States manage millions of calls every year from people who are accidentally and intentionally exposed to potentially harmful substances. Washington state alone accounts for close to 70,000 callers annually.
To raise awareness of poison hazards, prevention strategies, and the services that poison centers provide, we celebrate National Poison Prevention Week every year in March. One of the primary messages poison centers share during this week is that our services are for everyone. Many people think of poison centers as a resource for young children, and that adults rarely require “poison help”—they think adults “know better” and are not as prone to accidents. While close to half of all calls to poison centers are about children five years old and younger, poison exposures in teens, adults, and older adults tend to be more serious.
For older adults, most calls to poison centers concern medication errors, such as accidentally double-dosing or taking the wrong medication. This past year, we also saw a significantly higher number of calls from older adults regarding accidents with household cleaners. These calls stemmed from using unfamiliar products, using products inappropriately, and not following instructions or safety warnings correctly. You can view the Washington Poison Center’s call trends and data here.
This year, National Poison Prevention Week is scheduled for March 21–27. We’ve put together five easy ways you can celebrate:
- Save the national toll-free Poison Helpline number: 1-800-222-1222
When seconds count (for your health and peace of mind), you’ll want to get ahold of our expert nurses, pharmacists, and poison information providers quickly. Our call center is available 24/7 every day of the year, is always free, and has interpretation available in over 270 languages.
- Create a medication list.
Do you take any medications, vitamins, or supplements? Create a medication list (or update your current list) with this guide and template. In addition to helping you remember all important information, a medication list is extremely beneficial in case of emergency. To treat you safely, first responders need easy access to your medication information. And/or if the poison center is needed, it’s important for our call center staff to know exactly what you are taking.
- Take Back Your Meds
Are any of the medications in your cupboard expired, unwanted, or unneeded? Take them to a secure medicine return location—doing so helps reduce accidental poisoning, drug abuse, and environmental harm. King County has over 100 medicine return drop boxes—many located in grocery stores, pharmacies, and health clinics. All drop boxes are free to use. Find the closest drop box to you at www.TakeBackYourMeds.org.
- Follow the Washington Poison Center on social media.
We share daily poison prevention tips, seasonal health alerts, emerging poison hazards, and upcoming education events. During National Poison Prevention Week, we will also participate in and share national online events. Find us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
- Sign up for a training on at-home poison prevention.
View our catalog of upcoming online presentations and trainings on a variety of poison-related topics. Interested in other topics or holding a training for your organization or community? Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contributor Meghan King, MPH is a Public Health Education & Communications Specialist with Washington Poison Center, a 501c3 nonprofit organization, that has assisted Washingtonians for over 60 years through its toll-free Poison Helpline (1-800-222-1222). Available 24/7/365 and staffed by nurses and pharmacists with expert-level training in toxicology, the Poison Helpline provides free, confidential, and immediate information and treatment advice on poisonings, drug overdoses, and toxic exposures.