Opinion: Commentary: Be Safe at Home

Opinion: Commentary: Be Safe at Home

While we continue to spend the majority of our time at home, I wanted to highlight one of the major dangers that exist in and around our homes: poisons. The culprits commonly include ingested household cleaners, over-the-counter medications, pesticides, plants, and insect bites or stings.

Thankfully, Virginia’s three poison control centers provide 24-hour expert assistance by telephone and online to assist in the event of accidental and intentional exposure to poisonous chemicals, venoms, vapors or medications. In 2015, the Virginia Poison Control center staff handled 30,000 calls from the public and healthcare providers. 50 percent of those exposures involved children ages one to six. During this pandemic, this threat becomes more acute.

When you call the poison center, a nurse specializing in poisoning treatment and prevention will answer — not a volunteer or a machine. You should be ready to provide them with details such as:

  • The poisoning substance

  • The patient’s weight

  • How long ago the poisoning took place

The poison center nurses can determine whether someone needs to go to the ER or if the poisoning can be treated at home. When contacted immediately, 90% of poisonings can be successfully treated by poison center staff over the phone, instead of requiring a costly trip to the ER. If you suspect that you or your child have been exposed to a poisonous substance, you should contact the poison center immediately.

Here are some helpful tips to protect you and your family from an accidental poisoning:

  • Save the poison helpline number on your phone or put it on your refrigerator for easy access.

  • Make safe storage a priority in your home. Always store medicines and hazardous substances, including cleaning supplies up, away and out of sight — preferably in a locked or child-proof container.

  • Avoid container transfer. Never transfer toxic products to store in food or beverage containers.

  • Review medicine and product labels every time you use them. Teach your children to only take medications that a parent or caregiver has given them.

  • Be aware of everyday items that can pose a hazard. Many everyday household items can be poisonous if ingested. Be aware of small magnets, button batteries and e-cigarette paraphernalia. Remember that over-the-counter medications can also pose a risk if not used as directed. Store cough and cold medications in a safe place where children can’t access.

This year, I carried the budget amendment to provide extra funding to the three poison control centers that serve the Commonwealth. In the original budget that we passed in March, $1.5 million was set aside for this additional funding. Unfortunately, with the fallout of COVID-19, this funding was frozen, along with many other important spending items. As we head into a special budgetary session later this summer, unfreezing this funding remains one of my priorities. The poison control centers provide a critical life-saving service to the Commonwealth, and are a vital part of our public health infrastructure that we need in place at all times, and especially now that we are staying #SaferAtHome.

For more educational materials, and in case of an accidental or intentional poisoning, contact the Virginia Poison Control at https://www.webpoisoncontrol.org/ or call the hotline number at 1-800-222-1222.