New Program to Cut Childhood Poisonings

February 06, 2002
News Office: Wallace Ravven (415) 502-6397

The California Poison Control System has launched a new program to reduce accidental poisonings in the state, one of the leading causes of childhood injury. The new approach adds five full-time health educators at CPCS sites throughout California to work with local health and emergency care providers. The strategy aims to increase awareness of this life-saving service among parents of young children.

The statewide California Poison Control System receives about 300,000 calls a year for help in poison emergencies and for information about potential poisons. But estimates suggest that poison centers only receive calls on half of all child poisonings. The new plan is aimed to reach the "other half."

"Augmenting our health educator corps is part of our approach to increase public access to poison prevention information as well as to boost general awareness of our life- saving service," said Iana Simeonov, director of program development for the CPCS.

Simeonov's team is developing a range of up-to-date multi-lingual educational materials to serve California's diverse population. Using such tools, health educators can tailor programs to meet local, societal and cultural needs.

"When parents call the poison center, they reduce the risk to their children, and usually avoid an unneeded rush to the emergency room," Simeonov said. Most of the time, she explained, a hospital visit is not needed and the incident can be effectively managed over the phone. CPCS poison experts can also quickly alert parents if an emergency room visit is needed. Use of CPCS services can save a child's life, Simeonov said.

Six CPCS educators are now active throughout California and are directly responsible for providing life-saving poison prevention education to all members of the public, as well as serving as program planning consultants to public health agencies at the state, county, municipal and community levels. The new program has received substantial funding from the Maternal Child Health Bureau, a branch of the federal government's Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

Since beginning operations on January 1, 1997, the California Poison Control System has provided a toll-free telephone service for all California residents, responding to more than 1.4 million requests for fast, free, confidential expert advice and information on a poison exposure. This statewide network of trained health professionals dedicated to serving every California community is available 24 hours, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Nearly 80 percent of calls are safely and effectively managed where the exposure occurred, most often in the home, and do not require a hospital visit.

As of January 30, 2002, callers throughout the country will have access to a Poison Center through a single toll-free number. This initiative is funded by HRSA and managed by the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC).

"The introduction of a nationwide toll-free number gives many people across the country access to a poison control center for the very first time," said pharmacist Stuart E. Heard, executive director of the California Poison Control System. "The CPCS joins poison control centers across the country in supporting this new, important service."

Calls to the new number originating in California will be routed to the California Poison Control System without delay. Nationwide, callers to the new number will be directed to the closest poison control center. Californians familiar with the CPCS can continue to use the same toll-free telephone that has provided them with immediate, caring expert advice since 1997.

The California Poison Control System hotline is 1-800-222-1222. Poison control center services are now also accessible nationwide by calling 1-800-222-1222 The CPCS continues to operate separate, unlisted hotlines for healthcare providers and 911 Emergency Services. These remain unchanged and their continued use by medical professionals in California is encouraged. The new nationwide initiative is intended for the public.

The CPCS also has a wide range of community outreach programs and educational materials. Callers can receive stickers and poison prevention materials by contacting the education line at 1-800-222-1222 (voicemail) or going to the CPCS web site at

The California Poison Control System is authorized and funded by the State of California and consists of four divisions managed by the UCSF School of Pharmacy. They are located at Valley Children's Hospital in Fresno/Madera, UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, UC San Diego Medical Center and the UCSF-affiliated San Francisco General Hospital Medical Center.