Hennepin Regional Poison Center celebrates 40 years of caring for poison emergencies

by Hennepin Healthcare

Name your poison — Hennepin Regional Poison Center can help

Exposure to carbon monoxide, medications, plants and household cleaners are just a few of the reasons people call Hennepin Regional Poison Center (HRPC) for help. Since 1972 it’s been one of the state’s most valuable resources, responsible for saving thousands of lives. Today the Poison Center continues to provide an essential resource for patients, providers and anyone in need of information about poison.

Alice Lange "Poison Alice" answering phone calls in 1972.

On February 7, 1962, President Kennedy proclaimed the third week of March to be National Poison Prevention Week. Ten years later Hennepin Regional Poison Center, located in Hennepin County Medical Center, began caring for poison emergencies in the state of Minnesota – thanks to Alice Lange (a.k.a. Poison Alice), who pioneered HRPC with a telephone and index cards. During her first month on duty she handled 70 calls. Today, 40 years later, the Hennepin Regional Poison Center responds to an average of 4,600 calls monthly.

“Back in 1972 some of the typical calls were similar to today – kids eating iron tablets, or someone accidentally splashing cleaning solution in his or her eyes,” explains Jon Cole, MD, Medical Director of HRPC. “As new chemicals, interactions and trends in usage are being thought of everyday, there’s never a dull moment in our work. And unfortunately, in addition to accidental exposures, intentional exposure to chemicals like methamphetamine and bath salts is increasing. Last year 1,963 of the calls we received were related to people purposefully exposing themselves to a chemical to obtain a high.”

In 2011, the Hennepin Regional Poison Center responded to 55,205 emergency calls from every county in Minnesota. Approximately 92 percent of the time when the Hennepin Regional Poison Center is contacted for a poison emergency, they are able to provide instruction for care in the home, which avoids an unnecessary visit to the emergency department. In 2011, this saved the general healthcare system in Minnesota an estimated 26 million dollars.

The Hennepin Regional Poison Center is free and confidential, and staffed by specially trained pharmacists who are available 24/7, 365 days a year.  Just call 1-800-222-1222 for any poison emergency or go to www.mnpoison.org for more information about the Hennepin Regional Poison Center.