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Unintentional poisonings are a global health concern. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Burden of Disease Project, in 2004 approximately 3,346,000 people died worldwide from unintentional poisoning.80 Nearly 1 million people die each year as a result of suicide. Approximately 350,000 deaths result from the deliberate ingestion of pesticides. In addition, an estimated 5 million snakebites occur annually.80 The WHO has undertaken initiatives in many countries, including the Bahamas, China, Ghana, Lebanon, Myanmar, Senegal, and Trinidad and Tobago to establish Poison Centers (PCs) and raise awareness about poison prevention. Worldwide, data on nonfatal poisoning rates are currently not available, although the increase in poison centers globally may result in improved research and surveillance programs.54 This chapter focuses on programs in North America that aim to prevent unintentional poisonings and improve access to PC services.

Healthy People 2020 is a US federal program that outlines the health goals for the nation. These overarching goals are to attain high quality longer lives, achieve health equality and eliminate disparities, create social and physical environments that promote good health and promote quality of life, healthy development, and healthy behavior across all life stages. Two objectives in the Injury and Violence Prevention section relate to poison prevention. Objective IVP-9 is to reduce poisoning deaths and Objective IVP-10 is to reduce nonfatal poisonings.25 Community based public education programs at PCs are designed to help meet these other public health objectives.


Since the first PC was established in 1953, a number of legislative efforts have improved poison prevention and awareness and reduced the number of unintentional poisonings in children. Public education programs at PCs have been influenced by these federal measures.71

National Poison Prevention Week

In 1961, President Kennedy signed Public Law 87–319, designating the third full week of March as National Poison Prevention Week (PPW) to raise awareness of the dangers of unintentional poisonings. Each year, ­during PPW, PCs and other organizations around the country organize events and activities to promote poison prevention.

Child-Resistant Packaging Act

In 1970, the Poison Prevention Packaging Act was passed. This law requires that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) mandate the use of child-resistant containers for toxic household xenobiotics. In 1974, oral prescription medications were included in this requirement. A review of mortality data in children younger than 5 years of age shows a significant decrease in deaths after enforcement of the child-resistant packaging legislation.61,71,75

Taste-Aversive Xenobiotics and Poison Prevention

Nontoxic taste-aversive xenobiotics are frequently added to products such as shampoo, cosmetics, cleaning products, automotive products, and rubbing alcohol to discourage ingestion.24 This is done primarily to prevent poisoning in children except in the case of rubbing alcohol, where ...

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