Poison Centers Federal Dollars Cut by Nearly 25 percent in Proposed FY 2011 Continuing Resolution; Damaging Impact to States’ Ability to Help Citizens
For Immediate Release
April 13, 2011
Alexandria, Va. –U.S. poison centers suffered a nearly 25 percent cut in federal dollars in the proposed 2011 fiscal year continuing resolution agreed upon by House and Senate negotiators and released publicly on Tuesday – a damaging cut, but one far less brutal than originally proposed by the House of Representatives in H.R. 1.
The House of Representatives, in H.R. 1, had originally called for a 93 percent reduction in federal funding for America’s poison control system, a move that would have produced disastrous effects on public health.
“We’re grateful that Congress has recommended that a majority of our 2011 federal dollars be restored in the final compromise,” said Richard Dart, M.D., Ph.D., president of the American Association of Poison Control Centers. “But we must be clear: These cuts are still extremely harmful for poison centers. The cuts come on top of budget cuts at the state level. Many centers are experiencing total cuts from all sources of 40 percent or more. It’s short-sighted to believe that centers can sustain these cuts and continue to provide the same level of service that they did before.”
Federal dollars account for roughly 20 percent of total funding for poison centers, with states and other non-federal sources funding most of the balance. Poison centers provide free and confidential medical advice 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and have been cited as a model for cost-effective health care delivery.
“These cuts come during a time when poison centers are already facing enormous financial strain,” Dart said. “It’s too soon to know what these cuts mean. At best, callers to poison centers may have to wait longer before talking to a medical expert. At worst, we may see more of our poison centers close.”
In 2010, the state of New York closed three of its five poison centers, citing budgetary issues. In 2009, Michigan closed one of its two centers. New Mexico has seen a 29 percent reduction in state support over the past three years. Poison centers in California, Illinois, New Jersey and Washington have also fought tough battles in recent years to preserve funding.
A 2008 study conducted in Arizona and published in the Journal of Medical Toxicology found that poison centers saved $33 million in state-funded health care costs in one year, and that for every dollar the state of Arizona spent on the poison center, it saved about $36 in unnecessary health care charges.
According to some estimates, for a total yearly operating cost of less than $150 million, U.S. poison centers save more than $1 billion dollars in avoided health care costs. This doesn’t include other benefits, such as higher quality and more efficient care of poisoned patients, local, state and federal public health collaboration, professional and public education, regionally-related research and governmental consultation, to name a few.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accidental poisoning is the second-leading cause of unintentional injury death in the United States, trailing only automobile accidents. U.S. poison centers received more than four million calls in 2009, offering free, confidential information and professional medical advice to those exposed to poisons ranging from carbon monoxide to snake bites to food poisoning.
“Poisoning remains a very real public health threat,” said Jim Hirt, executive director of the American Association of Poison Control Centers. “But poison centers help reduce the cost of poison exposures. Nearly 91 percent of human exposure cases handled by a poison center are kept from having to go to a health care facility. Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals rely on poison centers every day for professional advice.”
In recent years, poison centers have emerged as a leader in public health surveillance, thanks to the National Poison Data System, a system that tracks all toxic exposures and certain public health emergency data reported to U.S. poison centers.
That system in 2010 helped collect invaluable data for public health agencies on the impact of the Gulf Oil spill. More recently, it has tracked radiation exposures and provided public health information, as requested by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, linked to the earthquake in Japan. Poison centers were also the first to raise the alarm about the toxic effects of synthetic marijuana and psychoactive products marketed as bath salts.
Currently, 57 poison centers cover all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Federated States of Micronesia, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Contact: Jessica Wehrman
About the American Association of Poison Control Centers:
The American Association of Poison Control Centers supports the nation’s 57 poison centers in their efforts to treat and prevent poisoning. Poison centers offer free, confidential medical advice 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
If you have questions about poisons, or you believe you’ve been exposed to something that could be bad for you, call your poison center at 1-800-222-1222.