Future of U.S. Poison Control Centers to be Decided in Next Three Weeks

March 19, 2011, 5:31 pm

On March 17, the U.S. House and Senate passed a continuing resolution that would maintain federal government financing until April 8.  Key members of both parties have said this is the last stopgap they would consider — if a budget is not passed by that time the federal government will shut down.  Therefore, important funding decisions will be made over the next 20 days.

The initial Republican budget proposal recommended reducing funding to the nation’s 57 poison control centers (PCCs) from $29.3 million annually to $2 million — a cut of 93%. Since federal funds make up somewhere between 15 and 25% of each PCC’s budget, this would invariably cause a drastic cutback in service and closing of many centers. The idea seems to be to consolidate and have one center covering the entire nation. Rep. Denny Rehberg (R – Mont.), the chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on labor, health and education, commented to ABC News: “There’s just no reason to maintain 57 separate call centers around the country when technology would enable us to get the job done with one”.  The New York Times ran an excellent editorial two weeks ago explaining why this proposal is simply “foolish”.

My guess would be that the final budget will arrive at a compromise between funding the full $29.3 million and cutting the amount down to $2 million.  Therefore, the next 3 weeks will be crucial in determining the future of PCCs. The American Association of Poison Control Centers is urging voters to contact their representatives in Washington.  A tool on their site has all the needed phone numbers, contacts, and addresses, as well as a sample letter.


  1. Colin Says:

    What are the implications of a 93% budget cut?

  2. Leon Says:


    That extensive a cut would mean that many many poison control centers would have to close. If those voting on the budget think that one centralized operation could cover the entire country, they’re nuts. More money would be spent on unnecessary emergency department visits, medical care for tox patients would suffer, and surveillance capabilities that poison centers provide would be lost.

    I think a far more likely scenario is some compromise between full funding and the 93% cut. That’s why it’s so important that those who support the work poison centers are doing get in touch with their representatives in Washington before the final budget is put together. Strong voter input will help determine where the final compromise figure falls.

  3. Colin Says:

    My apologies, I meant to further qualify my question before posting (long story not worth telling).

    There are clearly cost issues of using the ED over PCC’s, but that is rather meaningless if you consider a life invaluable. Are there any statistics (or speculation) on how many lives PCC’s aggregately save that may not be saved if relying on ED’s?

  4. Leon Says:


    There are, as far as I am aware, no data on how many lives are save by PCCs on an annual — or any other — basis. However, I can not agree that cost issues are meaningless. The entire medical system is in a state of crisis because of financial issues, and many EDs are already tremendously overcrowded. Burdening the system unnecessarily with addition patients and expenses will certainly not improve the situation. Studies have shown that PCCs are clearly cost-effective; see, for example: J Med Toxicol. 2008 Dec;4(4):221-4.