Poison center in Tucson may close - Tucson News Now

Poison center in Tucson may close

By Barbara Grijalva - bio | email

The state's financial crisis could force the elimination of one of Tucson's most enduring help lines: The Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center at the University of Arizona.

It could disappear as early as next month.

But there's even more at stake.

It's not only the hotline that doctors, parents, even veterinarians use when they need help, but education and research that helps all of us.

Anyone who has used the poison hotline knows it's just a phone call away.

And when you make the call, a pharmacist who is specially trained in toxicology and is a certified as a poison specialist is there to answer, 24/7.

For more than 50 years Arizona's first poison control center has helped save lives in our state.

The center is under the Arizona Department of Health Services.

To save money, legislators will consider closing it down and subsidizing a poison center at a private Phoenix hospital, Good Samaritan.

Good Samaritan's hotline is staffed by nurses.

Some argue closing the Tucson center could cost Arizonans a lot more than it would save.

University of Arizona President Robert Shelton calls the proposal "a grave disservice to the people of Arizona."

Jude McNally is the managing director of the Poison Control Center.

He calls the proposal shortsighted because the UA-based poison center is much more than a hotline.

"We have research going on that has treated over the last three years, over 650 kids with life-threatening scorpion stings," he says.

That would be gone under the proposal, and so would the Pregnancy Riskline that advises more than 3,000 pregnant and nursing women and their health care providers every year.

Also gone, the education medical, nursing and pharmacy students get through the center.

None of these programs comes out of the poison center's $1.2 million annual budget.

In fact, McNally says the center draws about one million extra dollars to Arizona in grants and other outside money for research and programs.

Here's what they're looking at losing:

The center handles some 70,000 new calls a year.

20 percent are from health care providers.

50 percent are emergency calls from parents and others involving accidental poisonings with household products and medications.

20 percent are bites and stings.

And veterinarians and pet owners call 3,000 times a year about pet poisonings.

Plus, McNally says the university setting means there are many different experts right on campus who are ready and willing to consult with the hotline pharmacists on everything from pesticides to plants. 

This center is a public health model, unbiased and free to choose the best option for a patient's care.

In fact, the poison center has trained healthcare providers all over the state to participate in the scorpion antivenin research that has helped so many Arizona children.

McNally says the legislative proposal would change that.

He says there's no indication Good Samaritan will ever be interested in such work.

The Dean of the UA College of Pharmacy, J. Lyle Bootman, calls the proposal a bailout for a private hospital system.

"They're offering us a privatized version of that in which a hospital which runs a poison control center can direct patients to come in to their hospital. Ultimately that generates billing for them," McNally says. 

A group of pediatricians, parents and others is organizing to try to save the poison center.

They have created a web site.

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