poisonings addressed include commercial products, medications, drugs of abuse, plants, venomous animals, industrial chemicals, and potential agents of bioterrorism. Because accessibility is widely publicized and available around the clock and free, centers are used extensively as sources of information or advice regarding actual or potential poisoning exposures. Poison control centers may also be accessed when the nature of the exposure (e.g., chemical versus infectious agent) is uncertain, and perform a triage function by either providing information or referring the call to an appropriate agency. Poison control centers have evolved a common set of activities to deal with these needs, primarily centered around telephone lines staffed by specialists with training in clinical toxicology and backed up by medical toxicologists, a wide range of consultants, and extensive collaborations with public health agencies and first responders. Complementary educational efforts are also offered by most poison control centers. Some centers provide training of medical toxicology residents, research, surveillance to detect emerging syndromes or bioterrorism events, or contracts to provide information services to industry.
Both the core activities shared by most poison control centers and the additional activities offered by some centers fill distinct needs in the nation’s public health system. Opportunities for enhancing poison control center effectiveness exist in the potential for further expansion of efforts in the area of emergency preparedness and response. There is a need for funding to support data analysis and research regarding center services delivery and further development of the certification process for SPIs and PIPs.