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Reduce your risk of exposure to poisonous or hazardous substances

A collection of medication bottles with a variety of pills spilled out from one opened container.

Recent data shows several types of increases in poisoning during COVID-19 pandemic. In the case of an emergency, call the Washington Poison Center at 800-222-1222.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives in countless ways. Children and adults spend more time at home, and we don’t have the same access to our support systems, coping mechanisms, and healthcare providers. Some of these changes have resulted in new patterns in exposure to poisonous or hazardous substances – things like medicines, cleaning products, cosmetic products, and alcohols.  

Across Washington state, exposure to poisonous or hazardous substances results in hundreds of preventable hospitalizations and deaths each year. Recent data from the Washington Poison Center shows that most exposures are unintentional, and nearly all exposures happen at home.  

Take a look: You probably have several types of poisonous or hazardous substances around your home right now – in the garage, the bathroom, the laundry room, even in the kitchen. These everyday items are dangerous for children and others if ingested or inhaled – but exposure is avoidable with safe storage and disposal.

Public Health – Seattle & King County and Washington Poison Center released a report of King County calls to the Washington Poison Center between January 2019 and July 2021. The data in this report reflects some of the changes and impacts we have experienced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Washington Poison Center reports increases in substance use and overdose – signs of the pandemic’s toll on mental health, as well as repercussions from the ongoing opioid epidemic. 
  • Analgesics (painkillers, including opioids and acetaminophens, like Tylenol) are the leading substance type that callers reported.
  • Household cleaning products, with bleach receiving the most calls, are the second highest substance type that callers reported.  

Safe medicine disposal in King County

One way to reduce the risk of accidental poisoning is to safely dispose of any old, leftover, or unwanted medicines in your home. King County residents can safely dispose of old or unwanted medicines at a secure medicine drop-box.

This includes:

  • Medicines in any form (pills, capsules, creams, liquids)
  • Prescription medicines
  • Non-prescription over-the-counter medicines
  • Controlled substances
  • Pet medicines

Drop-boxes are located throughout King County at participating pharmacies and law enforcement agencies. Visit this site to find a drop-box for this free service.

Safe storage

Safe storage of medicines and other potentially dangerous substances can lower the risk of accidental poisoning or overdose. Here are a few tips:

  • Pick a storage place that children can’t reach
  • Put medicines back in a safe spot after each use
  • Make sure the safety cap is locked
  • Have a conversation with family members about medicine safety
  • Remember to safely dispose of medicines you no longer need

Safer home products

Another way to reduce your family’s exposure to potentially harmful substances is to choose home and garden products that don’t contain toxic chemicals. When shopping for household products, it’s safer to read the label and choose the least hazardous products available. We’ve made it easy to decipher which products are safer and which you should avoid – check it out here!

In the case of an emergency, call the Washington Poison Center at 800-222-1222

The Washington Poison Center (WAPC) provides immediate, free, and expert treatment advice and assistance on the telephone in case of exposure to poisonous, hazardous, or toxic substances. All calls are confidential. 

Stay aware, check-in on those around you, and refer back to the resources in this article to keep you and your family safe from poisoning and exposure to dangerous substances. 

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