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March 23, 2011

Blue Ridge Poison Center: More than a hotline

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While answering calls about possible poison exposures is what the University of Virginia Health System’s Blue Ridge Poison Center is best known for, it’s only part of their work to protect Virginians’ health and save money. The center estimates it saved $11 million in healthcare spending in 2010 by helping residents in central and western Virginia treat poison exposures at home instead of visiting an emergency room.

In addition to operating the center’s 24-hour, toll-free hotline – which received more than 31,000 confidential calls last year – staff members also serve as detectives, researchers and educators. As the center commemorates National Poison Prevention Week, here’s a look at some of the other roles it plays:

Tracking substance abuse and poisoning trends: Working with a national network of poison centers, the center’s staff helps monitor which drugs are being abused, including new drugs like synthetic marijuana, as well as trends in accidental poisonings. The center is able to instantly share this information with healthcare providers, law enforcement and public health officials as necessary, though individual cases remain confidential. Researching treatments for Virginia-specific poisons: One benefit of having a regionally based poison center is the ability to focus on poisons unique to Virginia such as the venom from timber rattlesnakes, says medical toxicologist Christopher Holstege, MD, the center’s medical director. “Their venom can’t be addressed by the standard antivenom. The question is why?” he says. Holstege and his fellow UVA medical toxicologists are researching new treatments for these snakebites. Helping prevent poisonings: The center’s public educators – Sue Kell and Kristin Wenger – made 135 public presentations on poison center awareness and preventing poisonings in 2010. “We’ll make presentations to preschoolers one day and senior citizens the next day,” Wenger said. Additional awareness and educational information is available at .

Access to the center’s certified poison experts is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week by calling 800.222.1222 (800.451.1428 from cell phones).

Virginia residents should call the poison center right away, even if there are no symptoms, if someone:

Made a mistake with their medicine. Swallowed something they shouldn’t have swallowed. Spilled or sprayed a product on their skin or in their eyes.

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