RUTGERS-EAGLETON PUBLIC HEALTH SERIES: POISON CONTROL

The second release from our Inaugural Rutgers-Eagleton Public Health Series – a collaboration between our center and the Rutgers, New Jersey Medical School in Newark – focuses on poison control. More specifically it asks residents who they would call if they were concerned about having been exposed to a poison by taking “the wrong medication, too much medication, or been exposed to some chemical that might be harmful.” We provided a list of possible places to call, and the good news is that most New Jerseyans would seek immediate help from places like 911, their doctor, or the Poison Control Center. Moreover, 7 percent of our respondents report that they or a member of their family has called a poison hotline in the past year.

Full text of the release follows. Click here for a PDF of the release with text, questions, and tables.

7 PERCENT OF NEW JERSEYANS REPORT CALLS TO POISON CENTER HOTLINE IN PAST YEAR: RUTGERS-EAGLETON PUBLIC HEALTH SERIES POLL

 Households with children are more than twice as likely to seek help

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Unintentional poisonings are the leading cause of “injury death” nationally and in New Jersey, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the Garden State, 7 percent of residents say they or someone in their family has called a poison control center in the past year. Households with children are more than twice as likely to have sought help, 11 percent to 5 percent, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton Public Health Series poll.

The survey also finds that better educated and higher-income respondents are much more likely to report calling poison control compared to other New Jerseyans.

The New Jersey Poison Information and Education System (also known as the Poison Center or NJPIES) hotline at 1-800-222-1222 reports receiving an average of 65,000 calls annually in recent years, says physician Steven Marcus, NJPIES director, professor of preventive medicine and community health, and associate professor of pediatrics at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School (NJMS).

However, the number of calls to a poison center may somewhat underestimate concern about poisonings, since residents may try a variety of resources to get help. Allowed to identify multiple resources, 77 percent of respondents say they would be at least “somewhat likely” to call the hotline when faced with a possible poisoning. At the same time, 92 percent also say they would be at least somewhat likely to call 911, and 85 percent say they would be likely to call their doctor. Only 5 percent say they would probably not make any calls, which potentially could lead to disastrous consequences.

According to William Halperin, physician and professor at NJMS, calling 911 is the right choice if someone is in distress, whether unconscious, not breathing, seizing, convulsing or bleeding profusely. “But otherwise in the case of possible poisoning, the experts at the poison center should be the first choice,” said Halperin.

The new Rutgers-Eagleton Public Health Series is a collaboration between the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling (ECPIP, home of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll) and NJMS. “This new partnership allows us to go beyond our traditional political and policy polling to address health and safety concerns in a systematic way,” said poll Director David Redlawsk, a professor of political science at Rutgers University.

“We need to know what the people of New Jersey know, rather than guess what we think they know,” noted Halperin. “The poll is going to make public health more effective in our state.”

Results of the inaugural poll are from a statewide sample of 871 New Jerseyans contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from July 28 to Aug. 5, 2014, with a margin of error of +/- 3.9 percentage points.

New Jerseyans are proactive when it comes to potential poisoning

Almost six in 10 respondents – 58 percent – say they are “very likely,” and another 19 percent say they are “somewhat likely” to call NJPIES for help when they suspect poisoning has occurred. The Poison Center is available 24/7 and toll-free to callers who have been exposed to or who have questions about a medicine or other possible toxic substance, natural or man-made. NJPIES is part of the NJMS and is supported by the state Department of Health and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in partnership with New Jersey’s hospitals.

“Calling poison control can be the fastest way to get needed help or information in potential poisoning cases,” said Marcus, the Poison Center director. “It is very positive that about three of four New Jerseyans say they are at least somewhat likely to call NJPIES. However, that still leaves many New Jerseyans who may be unaware of this free 24/7 service.” He added that callers should not be conflicted about calling either 911 or the Poison Center since specialists who answer calls at either number will immediately start the aid process because time is of the essence.

The polls finds a relatively high number of New Jerseyans may turn to other, though less effective resources for help: friends or family members (42 percent), Internet searches (31 percent), and calls to 211, which provides information and referrals to health and human services agencies but is not intended to provide immediate medical advice (21 percent.). One in 20 New Jersey residents, however, say they would be likely to do nothing if they thought they or a family member had “taken the wrong medication, too much medication, or been exposed to some chemical that might be harmful.”

“While family members and Internet searches may have some answers, these are not the best ways to get immediate help,” Marcus cautioned. “Calling the poison center at 1-800-222-1222 for professional help is always the fastest option in cases of potential poisoning. Those who say they would not do anything are placing themselves or a loved one at risk. Keeping the number by the phone or programming it as a contact would be a very good idea.”

Demographics determine path to seeking help

Residents vary in their approaches to getting help. Women are more likely to say they would call a poison control center, 64 percent to 52 percent, while men are more likely to call a friend or family member, 47 percent to 38 percent. Non-white residents are more likely by double digits to call a doctor, friend or family member, or 211. But white and non-white respondents are equally likely to say they would call the poison control center.

Age seems to be another significant variable. At 81 percent, senior citizens are more likely to call 911 than any other cohort. Millennials, on the other hand, are the most likely group to say they would call 211. Younger residents also are more likely to call a friend or family member than are older people. Middle-age residents and respondents with children in the household – two groups that overlap considerably – are more likely than others to say they would phone a poison control center.

Use of the Internet to find answers varies greatly by age and also by income. Nearly 70 percent of those under 30 say they are at least somewhat likely to use the Internet when concerned about a poisoning, while under a quarter of senior citizens would go online. Those with household incomes under $50,000 are much less likely to expect to search the Internet than those making $100,000 or more. Those with children are also more likely to say they would use the Internet than those without.

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