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Pandemic 'red flags' poison control calls for cleaning products, hand sanitizer, drug overdoses

TheUpstate New York Poison Center didn’t get more calls than usual during 2020, but the pandemic did lead to some changes in the kinds of calls, as well as a possible insight to more serious issues.

The poison center handled 52,000 calls in 2020. Center Director Michelle Caliva said many calls were typical of a normal year; but she adds there were some pandemic-driven twists.

"We had an increase in cleaning product exposures, and the difference was it wasn’t the little child getting into it at home, it was the adults at home perhaps misusing or overusing cleaning products,” Caliva said.

Another sign of the pandemic, an increase in the number of calls regarding hand sanitizer exposure by children.

"When a little child drinks a hand sanitizer or any kind of alcohol product, they don’t get silly, they don’t get drunk, they get profoundly hypoglycemic,” Caliva said. “Their blood sugar drops and that's very dangerous.”

Perhaps most concerning, according to Caliva, a bump in the number of intentional overdoses by teenagers. In the past, it’s been more concentrated in an older age group.

"We have always seen misuse and abuse and intentional attempts at harm from medication,” Caliva said. “But to see it in this younger group is a real red flag.”

Caliva said one thing that didn’t change at all, the number of overdoses of synthetic drugs. Those are still widely available and being used in the community.

“It’s synthetic in general, not just marijuana, it’s synthetic products,” she said. “It’s all sorts of synthetic types of drugs. But it’s the opioids, the synthetic fentanyl, that’s quite disturbing.”

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