Arizona Poison Centers Warn of Potential Holiday Dangers

With the holiday season in full swing, the experts from Arizona’s two poison centers warn everyone to be on guard for accidental poisonings.

PLEASE NOTE: Many of these topics also are covered online in an infographic and blog post featuring the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center.

“This busy season is prime for accidental poisonings,” said Keith Boesen, PharmD, director of the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center at the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy in Tucson. “With shopping, visiting with friends and family and going to special events, it is easy to get distracted. That’s often when something potentially harmful happens.”


Maureen Roland, RN, clinical educator at the Banner Poison and Drug Information Center in Phoenix, agrees.

Roland said, “We hope everyone has our number – 1-800-222-1222 – programmed into their phones, just in case they need us. The same number reaches the nearest poison center, no matter where you are. Call us if you think there has been an accidental poisoning, or just to ask questions about safety or your medicines. It’s always free and confidential.”

Both call centers can get busy this time of year. The emergency call center in Tucson serves 14 of Arizona’s 15 counties, and the call center in Phoenix serves Maricopa County residents. Both centers take calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including all holidays. To help enjoy the holiday season, both recommend the following tips to keep you and your loved ones from falling victim to an accidental poisoning:

House Guests
Having relatives and other guests visit, or making such visits yourself, is an important part of celebrating the season. But visiting often also sets the stage for accidents that may have serious consequences. Whether you are guest or host, remember:

  • Be very alert about the location of all medications in the house. Never leave prescription or over-the-counter drugs in purses, pockets, suitcases or furnishings that can be reached by children. The best advice is to lock up all medications during the visit, and clearly label each person’s medication so no mix-ups occur.
  • Be vigilant about all alcoholic beverages – in and out of the bottle.
    Even a small amount of alcohol can be dangerous to a young child. Appoint one person to watch the children during a gathering that includes alcohol, and clean up all alcoholic beverages immediately after the guests leave.
  • Watch the smoke! Cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco contain enough nicotine to be dangerous to children, who have been known to eat whole cigarettes. Also, liquid nicotine refills for electronic cigarettes come in many flavors that are tempting to kids; the liquid can be life threatening if they decide to swallow it.

Poisonous Plants
Poinsettias do not contain fatal poisons, but if small children or even pets chew these holiday decorations, they may experience stomach discomfort, and/or vomiting. More dangerous are mistletoe berries, holly berries and the fruit of the Jerusalem cherry—make sure these plants are not easily accessible.

Many toys, decorations and other devices use batteries. Do not let children play with or remove the batteries. The small button batteries are very easy to swallow – U.S. poison centers report about 3,500 such incidents a year! Call your poison center immediately if you suspect a child has swallowed a battery. (Also, keep small magnets out of reach, as these too represent a serious condition if swallowed. If your child swallows ones of these items and needs immediate help, call 9-1-1.) 

Carbon Monoxide
Make sure you have a working carbon monoxide monitor in your house before using fireplaces, kerosene or propane heaters. An annual check of your furnace is also a good idea. With the cold weather upon us, unnecessary and potentially deadly carbon monoxide poisonings increase. Do not use gas stoves, barbecues, or gas grills to heat your home!

Food Poisoning

Bacteria found in raw meat, poultry or fish can contaminate surfaces. Be sure to wash your hands, kitchen surfaces, utensils, and cutting boards frequently. Also, make sure to cook all foods to minimum internal temperatures and wash all produce.

About the Arizona Poison Centers
The poison and drug information centers at the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy in Tucson and at Banner -  University Medical Center Phoenix provide free and confidential poison control and medication information to the public and health-care professionals. The hotlines operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The two centers serve all of Arizona and are part of 55 centers across the nation that are accredited by American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC). Call 1-800-222-1222 from any location to reach the poison center nearest you.