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Poison Control Centers on Front Lines of Ohio Opioid Crisis

In February, 128 people called poison centers in Ohio regarding the use of opioids. (Cincinnati Children's)
In February, 128 people called poison centers in Ohio regarding the use of opioids. (Cincinnati Children's)
March 20, 2017

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio's opioid epidemic has not let up, with reports of drug overdose deaths making daily headlines.

Poison control centers are playing a vital role as medical personnel work to combat the crisis.

In 2014, 2,400 Ohioans died from unintentional drug overdose, and last month, 128 people called poison centers in the state regarding the use of opioids. In January, there were nearly 300 calls.

Jerry Wiesenhahn, a pharmacist at the Cincinnati Drug and Poison Information Center at Cincinnati Children's, says the center has unseen an increase in prescription drug overdoses as they've tracked the epidemic.

"Really, poison centers were on the front end of starting to identify the fact that not only is heroin itself a problem, but there's a huge problem with adulterated heroin out there – mixing chemicals in there, some of which can enhance the potency of heroin and make it even more deadly," he states.

Wiesenhahn says any drug used above the therapeutic dose is potentially dangerous, and he advises Ohioans to call the poison hotline at 1-800-222-1222 if they suspect a possible poisoning.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every day opioid misuse sends about 1,000 Americans to emergency rooms and is behind the drug overdose deaths of nearly 44 people each day.

This is National Poison Prevention Week.

While 911 is a critical resource in a medical emergency, Wiesenhahn explains that with poisonings it's best to first call the poison hotline. And he says no situation is too trivial.

"We have specially trained pharmacists, nurses, paramedics, EMTs that are here really to help them evaluate how serious a situation may be, and then make the correct decision to keep everyone as safe as possible – whether it's to go to the hospital or, in most cases, be treated right there at home," he stresses.

Wiesenhahn says children younger than age 6 make up about half of poison-exposure calls, and many involve prescription medications.

"Either because they're inadvertently left sitting out or repackaged into another type of container that's not a child-resistant container, or children may find something around the house that got dropped and they ingest it and then nobody knows what it is," he explains.

It is recommended to always keep medications of any sort in their original packaging, and the same goes for household cleaners, pesticides and other toxic chemicals.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH