Poison Center seeking more funding; $800K requested to stave off cuts

Published 10:16 am Monday, March 16, 2015

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota’s Poison Center has said it needs more funding from the state, or it will have to scale back its 24-hour emergency call center.

Minnesota Public Radio News reports the state legislature created the call center as part of an integrated poison-control system. But legislators never fully funded it, and the state currently covers half of what’s needed to operate the center.

The Poison Center has asked for $800,000 to restore its budget for now, but its long-term funding would still be in doubt. The call center’s federal grants were cut a few years ago by more than 30 percent, and Hennepin County Medical Center says its contributions will cease July 1.

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The center gets an average of 132 calls a day, with 60 percent of them involving drug overdoses last year. Forty-five percent of calls involve children younger than 6, often when they ingest items around the house such as cleaning products or cosmetics.

Almost a quarter of calls to the center last year were from health care providers. Poison Center Director Debbie Anderson said it’s hard for physicians to know everything about poisonings, especially ones linked to new products.

“It’s not textbook,” Anderson said. “It’s not something you can go and look up and say, ‘Oh, you’ve done step 1. Do step 2.’ Every situation is different.”

National certification to become a poison information specialist takes more than a year, on top of qualifications to be a registered nurse or pharmacist.

Funding problems at the Poison Center aren’t unique to Minnesota, said Stephen Kaminski, executive director and CEO of the American Association of Poison Control Centers. He said six poison centers have closed since 2010 due to funding cuts.

“We’re not a governmental agency and not everyone realizes that,” Kaminski said. “Every one of our centers has to scratch and claw for their funding.”