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From national TV to community outreach, Poison Center experts are in the spotlight

From national TV to community outreach, Poison Center experts are in the spotlight

SYRACUSE, N.Y.-- “This is part of what we do every day in trying to identifywhat type of drugs, toxins or chemicals or poisons can result incertain effects in the human body.”

That was Upstate New York Poison Center toxicologist Jeanna Marraffa,PharmD, DABAT, explaining her work on the Dec. 1 broadcast of NBC’s Dateline.

Earlier this fall, Marraffa, who serves as assistant clinicaldirector of the poison center, testified in an area murder trial aboutthe effects of the drug colchicine on the body.

While not every expert opinion turns into a national TV appearance,Marraffa and her colleagues, especially the center’s clinical director,Christine Stork, PharmD, are frequently called on to impart theirknowledge of substances, including poisons, to various agencies, amongthem law enforcement.

“This is just another facet of the work our toxicologists provide,”said Upstate New York Poison Center Administrative Director MicheleCaliva, RN, CSPI. “It’s not one that we highlight, but individuals andagencies in need of expert information on poisonings, toxins, know whoto call.”

The Poison Center, which has been in existence for 60 years, is bestknown for answering questions from the public about possible poisonings.

The national number for Poison Center Help is 1-800-222-1222. Upstate, one of only two poison centers in New York, handles about60,000 calls from the state’s 54 upstate counties any time of day ornight.

The Poison Center also serves as a resource for hospitals throughoutthe state, answering questions from health care workers who are in themiddle of caring for patients. “We are definitely part of the care team,providing our expert knowledge over the phone often many miles away,”Caliva said.

Poison centers are well connected with law enforcement, state andlocal health departments and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Theserelationships make the poison center one the first agencies in thecommunity with information on new toxic substances arriving in thecommunity.

In 2012, Upstate’s Poison Center joined with then Onondaga CountyHealth Commissioner Cynthia Morrow, MD, MPH, to raise alarm over thegrowing use of synthetic marijuana. The center works closely too onsimilar issues with current Commissioner Indu Gupta, MD, MPH, MA, FACP.

The center’s toxicologists pore over report after report looking foremerging trends in poisonings. The center’s William Eggleston, PharmD,DABAT,  authored a case report in 2016 about two men who died ofloperamide overdoses. Better known by its commercial name, Imodium, anover-the-counter anti-diarrheal medication, loperamide can produce ahigh like opioids.

Another call seeking assistance comes from lawmakers, who seek dataand other information from the Poison Center that might be helpful incrafting legislation.

Among the center’s community events are Drug Take Back days thatallow the public to dispose of unwanted and expired drugs, and the SNADD(Sharps, Needles and Drug Disposal) program that allows for the safedisposal of hypodermic needles used at home.

“We have come a long way from simply being the poison expert on theother end of the phone,” Caliva said. “We really do it all, fromassisting the general public with possible poison emergencies toassisting in patient care, to calling attention to new and emergingdrugs that cripple our communities  and helping elected officialsresearch legislative opportunities, the Upstate Poison Center is alwaysready to serve.”

In addition to Caliva, Poison Center administrative team includesChristine Stroke, PharmD, clinical director, and Richard Cantor, MD,medical director.

See a recent edition of the Poison Prevention newsletter at Poison.

Caption: Jeanna Marraffa, PharmD, DABAT, assistant clinicaldirector of the Upstate New York Poison Center, is interviewed by a crewmember from NBC’s Dateline for a story on a CNY murder trial.