Poison: the mere word can evoke powerful images in our minds, conjuring up everything from childhood tales — think Snow White and the deadly apple — to tainted darts and daggers in spy novels.
While the weapon of choice in some murder mysteries, entertaining a slew of fans, in real life poison is serious business. And everyday materials can become poisonous with very little effort.
So, what can be classified as a poison?
“Well, a poison is any product or substance that can harm someone if it is used in the wrong way, by the wrong person or in the wrong amount,” said Rebecca L. Miller, community education specialist for Maine, Northern New England Poison Center. “Potentially poisonous items include some household products, chemicals at work or in the environment and drugs, including prescription, over-the-counter, herbal illegal and even animal medications which can be mistakenly taken by the owners.”
Swallowing something hazardous is what springs to mind when poisoning is mentioned; however, poisons can enter the body in a variety of ways such as through the eyes or ears, through the skin or by inhalation, she added.
“Many people think the poison center is all about little children getting into things that they are not supposed to,” said Miller. “But we are so much more. People can call the poison center if they have questions or are concerned about something they have eaten or spilled on themselves. And, while the staff does handle emergencies, they can also help people avoid poisonings. We are really full service.”
Miller highlights some actual common scenarios that are commonly handled by the Poison Center:
• My 2-year-old grandson got into the ibuprofen and may have eaten some.
• I accidentally took my wife’s medicine by mistake. What should I do?
• My dog chewed on one of my house plants.
• I just picked up my pills at the pharmacy and they don’t look right. My pharmacy is closed and I don’t dare take this medicine in case it isn’t the right thing.
• My husband accidentally took two doses of his medication.
• I need to flea bomb my house. Can you tell me what I should do to be safe?
• I started a new medication and I think I am having side effects.
• I need to take some cold medication but I am worried it might interact with my other medications.
• I accidentally took an extra dose of my medication.
The Northern New England Poison Center can help with all of these problems as well as other issues such as reported flu-like symptoms that might be food poisoning or concerns about a possible carbon monoxide trouble.
If you suspect that someone has been poisoned, call the poison center immediately. The staff will type the information into a computer and instruct you on the best procedure to follow. It may be tempting to read the warning labels on the substance container and to follow its directions first, but resist the urge as it will only slow you down when you could be talking directly to a trained specialist.
“People may want to call their primary care provider first, but often the provider will refer them back to us,” said Miller. “We have seen increases in these types of call. I believe we really can help the physicians because we have the information right there.” It is best to contact the primary care provider after following the Poison Center’s instructions. And no question should ever be considered too silly to ask. If you’re concerned, we’re concerned and advocate that when it doubt, check it out,” said Miller.
For information, call 800-222-1222 or go to nnepc.org. The poison center is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and calls are completely confidential.
Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. For information on EAAA, call 941-2865 or log on EAAA.org.