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Pain medication. Cosmetics. Cleaning supplies. Tennessee Poison Center’s message: lock them away.

But if the unexpected occurs, TPC's hotline is staffed by nurses, pharmacists, physicians and board-certified medical toxicologists

by March 14, 2024

Poisonings can occur anywhere, anytime and to anyone, said Rebecca Bruccoleri, MD, medical director, Tennessee Poison Center (TPC), housed at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

“They can occur through a multitude of modalities including ingestions, injections, inhalations, dermal exposures, and envenomations (poisoning by biting or stinging),” she said. “One of the most important messages that I can share with anyone is to keep medications and toxic substances locked away.

“I cannot stress that enough,” Bruccoleri said of safely storing dangerous materials. “It’s a key deterrent to accidental poisonings. But if the unexpected occurs, TPC offers around-the-clock service and medical information during a crisis to the 95 counties in the state through a toll-free hotline.”

TPC’s help hotline —1-800-222-1222 — is staffed by nurses, pharmacists, physicians and board-certified medical toxicologists who are specially trained to assist callers.

Each year Bruccoleri and her team at TPC acknowledge National Poison Prevention Week, designated by Congress in 1961, to promote poison safety and awareness. It occurs the third week of March each year.

The team has distributed poison prevention materials throughout the state to celebrate the week.

In 2023 TPC:

  • Answered 52,123 calls.
  • 47% of the calls involved children ages 5 and younger.
  • 68% of the calls were managed by hotline experts and did not require hospital care.
  • Saved taxpayers an estimated $21.4M in unnecessary Emergency Department visits.

In addition to the hotline, TPC provides poison prevention education and outreach throughout the state, distributing more than 80,000 pieces of literature per year. Furthermore, through an award-winning partnership with the University of Tennessee Extension Educators, many more Tennesseans receive poison prevention education.

TPC, first established by VUMC in 1988 as the Middle Tennessee Poison Center, was renamed in 2004 after the poison control centers throughout the state ceased operation. The Tennessee Department of Health designated TPC as the comprehensive poison resource center for the entire state.

Every 8-9 minutes, TPC data is uploaded to Washington, D.C., looking for anomalous signals in both symptoms and substances, providing 24/7 biochemical terrorism surveillance for the state of Tennessee.

The top 5 poisons reported to TPC in 2022:

  • Analgesics (pain medications)
  • Cleaning substances (household)
  • Antihistamines
  • Cosmetics (personal care)
  • Antidepressants

TPC, 1 of 55 poison control centers in the U.S., has a goal to prevent poisonings, minimize poisoning complications, and reduce the number of poison-related deaths through hotline intervention, public education, professional education and clinical research.

Photo illustration by iStock

Tennessee Poison Center, Rebecca Bruccoleri