Federal funds tie Alaska into poison center

Posted: Friday, August 31, 2001

Alaskans have a new resource for information on poisoning. It's a number 1-800-222-1222 that connects all callers in Alaska with the Oregon Poison Control Center.

That center will serve as Alaska's designated poison center for at least the next three years all the time, that is, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, throughout the year.

"This is a major event for Alaska, on the scale of (establishing) the 911 service," said Raj Maskay, a public health specialist with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services' Division of Public Health. He is also the Alaska State Poison Control System coordinator.

The new system has come into existence via federal legislation passed in February 2000 and provides a service that is sorely needed in a state that doesn't have sufficient population to warrant its own center, Maskay said.

The Oregon Poison Control Center provides the services of a toxicologist a poison expert 24 hours a day. Until now, a caller to Bartlett Regional Hospital who was concerned about a possible poisoning might get to talk to a nurse, or a local pharmacist or, sometimes, a doctor, all of whom might refer to software to help the caller, Maskay said.

But a caller to the Oregon center will have the benefit of talking to a certified specialist in poison information 24 hours a day.

Poisonings in Alaska pose a significant problem, with 256 deaths from 1994 through 1998, and nearly 2,700 hospitalizations involving people of all ages and many different types of poisonings. Many more cases are treated and released from emergency departments and clinics, according a Division of Public Health document.

Maskay said statistics show there may be as many as 5,500 poisonings in Alaska every year.

According to the division, callers should be prepared ot give any known facts (such as the victim's age and weight, and the substance involved) to the expert answering the phone, along with relevant labels, containers or bottles involved in the poisoning.

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