Poison and Drug Information Center gives free advice to callers

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Oklahomans saved an estimated $15 million last year in health care costs, as one agency answered more than 31,000 telephone calls related to poisoning and drug overdoses.

The Oklahoma Poison and Drug Information Center has a team of pharmacists on hand to help all callers, and sees the elderly as an especially vulnerable group.

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Photo by Eriech Tapia, for the Oklahoman.

“We need to remind folks that medications can be dangerous and sometimes we can accidentally take our medicine twice or may have a drug interaction,” said Laura Brennan, state education coordinator for the center.

Brennan has traveled to more than 40 senior citizen centers across the state, advocating for smart medication use. She said seniors can fall victim to overdosing because many take multiple medications and may use more than one pharmacy.

“You know that paper they staple to your sack when you get your medications? If people cannot read that paper and understand it, then they should talk to their pharmacist.”

The worst thing at a pharmacy is to feel rushed, Brennan said. She advocates for people to have relationships with their pharmacists and to ask questions.

Overdoses can also be caused by taking over-the-counter products that contain the same drugs, such as acetaminophen, Brennan said.

“Watch the amount of Tylenol that you are taking, a lot of over-the-counter medicines have Tylenol in them,” said Courtney Lundeen, a pharmacist at Hospital Discount Pharmacy in Edmond.

“A small amount taken over an amount of time, can turn into a huge problem,” Brennan said. “One of the places we really see this problem of slow overdosing is with the elderly population.”

Taking medications along with a lot of vitamin supplements can also cause interactions, Brennan said. And grapefruit juice can cause interactions when consumed along with high blood pressure medicine and several other drugs, she said.

The highest percentage of calls received from people older than 6 were related to prescription pain relievers, which often are a form of opioid.

For children 6 and younger, cosmetics and personal care products were the highest reported overdoses to the center last year.

Among teenagers, drug overdoses reached more than 5,000 last year and accounted for 51 deaths in Oklahoma.

Scott Schaeffer, managing director of the Oklahoma Poison and Drug Information Center, remembers his younger brother getting into the medicine cabinet when he was a teenager and wanting to take every type of medication to get rid of his cold.

“He said he was going to kick this cold and take some of everything. He was thinking like a 15-year-old,” Schaeffer said. “It is very representative of how teens think, which is, more is better.”

The Poison and Drug Information Center is open year-round and there is no charge to callers. The number is (800) 222-1222.

The estimated $15 million annual savings to taxpayers is based on trips to emergency rooms avoided by callers seeking help with drug and alcohol overdoses as well as animal bites and stings and exposure to chemicals.

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