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The Oklahoma Poison Center receives and welcomes a variety of calls

The center serves all 77 counties in the state and receives about 50,000 calls annually, said the center's managing director Scott Schaeffer.
by Bryan Painter Published: October 20, 2013

The 2-year-old drank the eye makeup remover.

The dog, belonging to one sister and being dog-sit by another sister, found the rat poison intended to take care of any field rats that might come near the house.

A scorpion, of which there have been plenty the last few years, applied the hurt to someone who had not been stung before.

In each case, the parent, caregiver or the affected individual called the Oklahoma Poison Center in Oklahoma City. The center serves all 77 counties in the state and receives about 50,000 calls annually, said the center's managing director Scott Schaeffer.

Of those, about 35,000 are related to exposure, “where somebody has actually been poisoned, taken too much of their medication or their child has maybe taken too much of grandma's medication or got into someone's medicine bottle,” Schaeffer said.

The center, staffed 24 hours, includes nine full-time and three part-time employees. The number of individuals taking calls often depends on the time of the day.

“When someone calls the poison center they're going to get a registered pharmacist or a nurse,” Schaeffer said. “So they've had extensive training, both in poisoning and toxicology and they have real-life experience, treating patients, being out there dispensing drugs, giving medication advice.

“You're talking to somebody who really knows what they're talking about. We also hire students at the OU College of Pharmacy. They'll answer questions where stuff is essentially nontoxic and refer the call to one of our specialists if the situation is more serious.”

In addition to experience, the pharmacists and nurses in the center have other readily available resources, he said.

If needed, the nurse or pharmacist in the Oklahoma Poison Center can contact the center's medical director, Dr. William Banner. Also, if needed, they can contact translation services if the caller does not speak English.

Various calls

While the majority of calls come from parents or caregivers, about 20 percent are from medical professionals who are caring for patients either at an emergency room, in an intensive care unit or in other areas of a hospital. The medical professional may also be calling if a person has taken too much medication or in some cases, not enough of the prescribed medication. Paramedics also are among those who call the center.

Plus, the center's data is shared in real-time with the American Association of Poison Control Centers, which monitors exposures from across the nation looking for indications of disease outbreak, chemical spills, bioterrorism and more, Schaeffer said.

“We try and handle anything that is thrown to us,” Schaeffer said. “If a toddler gets into a medication, or if a person has a bite or a sting via by a snake or a scorpion, a bat, a dog, we'll handle those calls.

“If we don't have the necessary expertise, we can call in our resources, experts in other fields, they'll help us out.''

Schaeffer said any time someone suspects somebody might have been poisoned, they should call.

“Just call us,” he said. “We'll help you decide whether or not this is a problem. If we can help you out, we'll follow up and make sure everything is OK.”

He said “if things start to head south we'll help you decide when it's time to go ahead and get seen by a physician” or professional medical caregiver.

Schaeffer said that although many callers need information in response to a poison situation, he would like the public to consider them as a drug information source as well. If somebody wants to know about their medication, whether they can take it safely with another medication or about the possible side effects, “we're here as a resource.”

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by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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