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Upstate New York Poison Center celebrates 65 years of service in 2022

Group photo of poison center staff.

FOR RELEASE: Jan. 24, 2022

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – In 2022 the Upstate New York Poison Center is celebrating 65 years of service. The poison center began in 1957 as the Central New York Poison Center. In the last 65 years it has expanded from a 14-county service area to now serving 54 of the 62 counties in New York state under the direction of the New York State Department of Health. The center has graciously been housed at Upstate Medical University for its entire existence. The Upstate New York Poison Center assists healthcare providers, 911 operators, hospitals, industry, schools, and the general public with poison emergencies by providing state-of-the-art management expertise. It strives to provide the most current toxicology management and prevention information to both the general public and healthcare community with the goal of reducing the number, the cost, and the severity of poison exposures.

Dr. Richard Cantor, medical director from 1991 - 2018 says, “What’s changed in terms of poisonings over the years is we have gone from the prevention and treatment of primarily pediatric poisonings to more serious poison case management involving more dangerous exposures. The development of Toxicology as a specialty of Emergency Medicine has created a merging of the needs of emergency patients and the expertise of the poison center. The one constant through our years of service has been the dedication of our Specialists in Poison Information who have the difficult job of helping either a patient or medical provider with difficult exposures.”

“Our poison center is truly a fantastic resource for all New Yorkers. We are there 24/7 to address home concerns and hospital concerns,” says former medical director from 2018 - 2021, Dr. Michael Hodgman, “During my time with the poison center, we added new programs and better ways to communicate with toxicologists across the state. This has enhanced the poison center experience dramatically.”

Poison center staff provide telephone triage and case management for poison exposures, 24 hours, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, to 125 hospitals with a population base of 7.3 million people. The clinical and education staff is committed to being the definitive toxicology resource within these communities.

The poison center’s entire staff has grown over the years to accommodate the new populations it serves. The center has 21 Clinical and Medical Toxicologists and 21 Specialists in Poison Information (SPIs). The public education team consists of three full-time educators, a marketing coordinator, and several dedicated administrative assistants. 

“In the 25 years I have worked for the poison center, I have consistently seen the most calls for young children.,” says Dr. Christine Stork, clinical director of the Upstate New York Poison Center, “Children are curious, and we know without the service we have provided for the past 65 years, many families would take unnecessary trips to a hospital or worse.”

Top 3 poisonings for children 5 and under for the past 10 years:

  1. Personal Care Products (i.e., hand sanitizer)
  2. Household Cleaning Products (i.e., bleach)
  3. Analgesics (i.e., Tylenol, Ibuprofen)

The Upstate New Poison Center is constantly evolving to better meet the needs of the communities it serves. This year, the poison center plans to honor its past and look to the future with celebrations, education, and new initiatives. One goal for 2022, as the law has changed in regard to marijuana, is to provide more education around edible THC products and encouraging everyone to treat these products just like a medication.

“Though I've only been Medical Director for seven months, one change I've noticed is an increase in unintentional edible THC exposures in young patients.,” says Dr. Vince Calleo, current medical director of the Upstate New York Poison Center, “This is problematic because children may experience more severe effects from THC than adults. Some of the Poison Center's initiatives to combat unintentional exposures include public education on the dangers of pediatric THC exposures and encouraging preventative measures, including the use of medication lock boxes as well as keeping substances up and out of sight.”

A snapshot of 2021:

  • The poison center handled 49,974 cases.
  • 68% of calls were managed in a non-healthcare facility.
  • Of the calls for children 5 and under, 90% of these calls were managed at home.
  • 71% of the poison center’s calls were for an unintentional poisoning.

For interview requests, please reach out to Allison Mirabito at mirabita@upstate.edu.

In the case of a poisoning or for information purposes, call the Upstate New York Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222. We are open 24/7, 365 days a year. Each year our center manages more than 50,000 calls from health care providers, 911 operators, hospitals, industry, schools, and the general public in our 54-county service area.

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About Upstate New York Poison Center

Housed inside Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY, the Upstate New York Poison Center is dedicated to reducing the number, cost and severity of poisonings within its designated 54-county service area as mandated by New York State Law. The Center is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to both health professionals and the general public at 1-800-222-1222.

About Upstate Medical University

SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY, is the only academic medical center in Central New York. It is also the region's largest employer with 9,460 employees. Affiliated with the State University of New York, Upstate's mission is to improve the health of the community through education, biomedical research and health care.