Rutgers poll shows lack of poison center use by NJ residents


One in 20 New Jersey residents would do nothing in a situation where a friend or family member was in need of poison services, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton Public Health Series poll.

Created in collaboration between the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling and the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, the poll shows 31 percent of individuals would be “very likely” to turn to the Internet for information on a potential issue before calling a poison center.

David Redlawsk, director of the ECPIP, said the poll was created in order to showcase issues that can affect anyone.

“We wanted practical questions that could be asked in a survey and could provide important information about public health issues,” said Redlawsk, also a professor of political science at Rutgers. 

ECPIP has conducted a variety of polls in the past, mainly focusing on politics, but have chosen to use their partnership with NJMS to bring awareness to more specific health issues. 

Although the poll states that 42 percent of New Jersey residents will contact family or friends in a poison emergency, this may not be the fastest course of action.

Steven Marcus, executive director of the New Jersey Poison Information & Education System, said the best and most effective way to gain insight on a potentially dangerous situation is to call the poison center.

“The idea is to help professionals as well as the public,” he said. “The professionals that cannot always keep up to date on the changes in therapies and the public so that they have a way to call to get reliable information on what to do.”

He has been involved with NJPIES since it was founded in 1983 and has witnessed changes that have occurred, including the loss of funds. 

Although NJPIES receives 65,000 calls to their hotline annually, there has been a steady decline.

“Over the past 15 to 20 years — globally, not just in New Jersey but across the country — the calls to poison centers have decreased in total number, but the severity of the poisonings have increased,” he said. 

Allison Ameduri, a graduate student in the School of Communication and Information, is part of the younger generation that has become accustomed to using the web.

“After I, or someone else, was affected by a poisoning, I am sure I would be all over the Internet looking for resources and trying to understand what is going on,” she said.

No matter how good the Internet is, Marcus said it is not “terribly useful” for information to determine whether or not someone has dangerously overdosed.

It is a time-consuming process that does not always provide the most credible information, Redlawsk said. 

The most effective way to receive information is to call NJPIES, a 24/7 service that is run by professional health care specialists. They aim to help make things work in a more orderly fashion and with less risk.

One misconception about poison cases is the belief they can be controlled.

“You cannot control poisons, you can prevent poisonings and respond to them but you can not control them,” Marcus said. 

Marcus and Redlawsk said prevention is key in keeping safe from potential poisoning.

Medications that are potentially poisonous, if taken in large amounts or for the wrong purpose, should be locked and secure.

“Those kind of behaviors, like making sure that those poisons are safely stored, can make a big difference,” Redlawsk said. 

In addition to locking away harmful substances, Marcus said it is equally important for people to know know the medicines in their cabinet. A great deal of drug companies create products that are visually similar, which can turn into a potentially harmful situation.

The recommended procedure in the case that someone may have been poisoned is to call NJPIES before 911 or rushing to the hospital.

“Before you do anything, don’t give the person anything to drink or make them vomit, call the 800 number and somebody here [at the center] will sort out the details and decide what is needed,” Marcus said. 


Megan Dougherty

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