Of the Baker City Herald

Mr. Yuck needs some bucks.

In fact, the frowning, green-faced guy whose surly countenance and extended tongue have kept countless children from poisoning themselves needs 1.5 million bucks.

In a tight budget year, that's the sum that Oregon Health andamp; Science University will need from the Legislature to keep the Oregon Poison Center open for another year.

A bill sponsored by Medford Republican Rep. Rob Patridge HB 2709 would extend the center's life out of the state's 911 fund. That Emergency Communications Account, a tax paid by telephone users, has been growing with the proliferation of cell phone use in the state.

That bill has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.

If the bill does not become law, the center will have to cease operation July 1, said Dr. Ken Bizovi, one of the center's seven medical toxicologists.

Bizovi, who's also an assistant professor at OHSU, advises the 23 nurses who handle the nearly 70,000 calls the center receives every year, including 200 from Baker County in 2002. He was in Baker City Tuesday as part of a swing through Eastern Oregon in an effort to marshal support for the bill.

While acknowledging that it may be difficult to find 1.5 million new dollars in the current budget climate, Bizovi said that the center saves taxpayers money. Every dollar spent on advice and follow-up over the telephone saves seven dollars on trips to the emergency room or family physician, emergency medical technician care and transport, 911 operations and other costs, he estimated.

andquot;We get thousands of calls from parents of children under five who have swallowed everything from glass cleaner (a bright color many children find attractive) to gasoline,andquot; he said.

Last year, three-fourths of the cases could be safely managed at home, through a recommended treatment such as ipecac syrup, which induces vomiting.

Each day the center's nurses and doctors also consult on the management of between 25 and 40 hospitalized patients. The center also responds to potential biochemical situations, and the staff is trained for biochemical terrorism events.

It also plays a role in statewide emergency planning and management of hazardous material incidents.

A Poison Center survey indicated that should the center close, 42 percent of callers would instead call their physician to seek advice. Twenty-three percent said they would call the emergency room at their local hospital, while 13 percent would visit the emergency room.

Six percent said they would wait and see or do nothing.

It's not only young children who need the information the center can provide, Bizovi said. Sometimes married seniors mistakenly take each other's medication, Bizovi said, or they take too much.

Another down side to closing the center, Bizovi said, would be the loss of the database that has grown since the center opened in 1978. Twice a year, manufacturers send the center updates about changes they've made in their products. That knowledge is invaluable, he said, as doctors and nurses must make rapid decisions in what are sometimes life threatening situations.

Most states, including Oregon, send the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta real-time reports on their calls, he said. That connectivity was vital last month with a case in Maine, Bizovi said, when a mentally ill man slipped arsenic into a coffee urn during a church event.

The rapid number of calls to Poison Control from that region of the state helped local, state and federal authorities, working together, to rapidly pinpoint the source of the crime and to coordinate treatment for the victims.

andquot;There's no replacementandquot; if the bill fails and the center closes, Bizovi said. andquot;There's nobody to transfer the calls to.andquot;

Bizovi's boss believes the center is as central to public safety as other traditional services.

andquot;The poison center is an essential resource, one that you need to know is there, like the police and fire departments when you dial 911,andquot; said Dr. Zane Horowitz, the center's medical director. andquot;The last thing anyone could imagine is calling and getting a taped message saying we have been disconnected.andquot;

The Oregon Poison Center also serves 11 counties in northern Nevada and Alaska.

The toll free telephone number, staffed 24 hours per day, seven days per week, is 800/222-1222.