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Poison Center Spotlight Archive Oregon Poison Center

Oregon Poison Center…Flexibility in Poison Management

A toddler ate her grandmother’s “heart pills.” A man had a seizure, and an empty pill bottle was found near him. A teenager drank from a cup containing antifreeze. What do these poisoning emergencies have in common that makes them more challenging than usual? Answer: Each required immediate hospital care, but in every case it took many hours to get the help they needed.

Why the delay? Most poison centers can get medical care for their patients whenever necessary, but many of Oregon Poison Center’s (OPC’s) Exit disclaimer calls come from remote locations, including Guam and Alaska. Oregon’s rural locations are usually within an hour of a hospital. Guam’s area is only 212 square miles, so its two hospitals can be reached fairly quickly. But Alaska’s area is more than 586,000 square miles—roughly one-fifth the size of the lower 48 states—and its mountains, glaciers, and expanses of frigid ocean create huge barriers to medical transport. (In the above cases, the toddler lived in a tiny village cut off from civilization, the unconscious man was on a fishing vessel in the middle of the ocean, and the teenager was in a village reachable only by snowmobile.)

Medical care in many Alaskan villages comes from volunteer Community Health Aides (CHAs) Exit disclaimer. Some CHAs can place IV lines, do EKGs (if their clinic has a machine), or give treatments--but many can just check vital signs. If there is an overdose or other toxic exposure, the CHA is the only one to assess, monitor, and treat patients until they can be sent to an ER often many hours away.

What can OPC’s all-RN staff of Specialists in Poison Information (SPIs) Exit disclaimerdo in these cases? They use a flexible approach, making the most of the resources available. They decide (in consultation with an OPC toxicologist) whether the patient requires urgent hospitalization, and then coordinate monitoring until transport is available and weather conditions allow. For example, the teenager who drank antifreeze needed hospital treatment to prevent toxic alcohol metabolism, but regular beverage alcohol can provide a short-term block. Because he lived in a ‘dry’ village he ended up riding his snowmobile to the hospital, stopping for shots of alcohol at homes and bars along the way!

So remember, if you need to call the OPC with your poisoning emergency, you’ll be talking to an RN-SPI with experience helping people in some challenging situations! For more information, visit OPC Exit disclaimer.