Like 911, but for poisoning. North Carolina Poison Control is staffed by our medical experts who can provide immediate care that could keep you out of the hospital.

Your Health | one year ago

"We're Like 911, but for Poisoning": N.C. Poison Control Provides Free Emergency Care Over the Phone

Any time someone ingests, inhales or touches something they shouldn’t, your best move may be to call North Carolina Poison Control. A specially trained nurse or pharmacist will answer your call, assess your situation immediately and provide a course of treatment that could keep you out of the hospital.

Gummy vitaminsToothpasteSnake bites.

When you think of reasons you might need to call poison control, these may not make the list. 

But if a normal serving size of gummy vitamins is one or two, what do you do if your child has 30 of them? Or if they swallow several mouthfuls of toothpaste with fluorideand start vomiting? Or … the snake?

These are some of the most common calls that come into North Carolina Poison Controlwhich is part of Atrium Health and staffed by our medical experts. It serves as the designated poison control center for North Carolina.

If you or someone you love ingests, inhales or touches something they shouldn’t, your first instinct may be to call 911. But your best move may be to call poison control. And when you do, a specially trained nurse or pharmacist will answer the phone. 

Someone, like Atrium Health nurse RoShonna Lockhart, RN, CSPI (Certified Specialist in Poison Information)

“We consider ourselves the 911 of poisoning,” Lockhart explains. “You can skip the time, effort and waiting that goes along with getting to your doctor or 911 by directly calling us.”

Lockhart has been a nurse for 13 years, more than half of which were spent working in the ICU

But for the last seven years, after receiving specialized training in toxicology, Lockhart has worked at North Carolina Poison Control, one of only 55 such centers in the country. It’s funded by the state in partnership with Atrium Health.

“You’re using a different set of skills to make your assessment as a nurse than when you’re at the bedside,” Lockhart explains. “You can’t see with your eyes. You’re depending on what the person on the other end of the line is telling you so it’s really important to ask the right questions to get the information you need to make a good clinical decision.

Those decisions may not only save a life, they could also save time, money and valuable resources. 

In fact, many times when patients do end up at the hospital, a doctor’s office or even 911 with a poisoning, the staff treating themwillactually call poison control directly.

“Hospitals and doctors sometimes call us when they have an overdose situation or an exposure situation,” Lockhart says. “This is not something that they study so they call us to find out what they need to do.”

Calling poison control is free.Your situation will be assessed immediately andthey will help determine the level of toxicityand provide course of treatment right over the phone, often without need for additional medical care. 

“About two-thirds of the time, people can be helped without going to a hospital,” says Alexa Steverson, MA, Manager, Communications & Content Development for poisoncontrol

That’s because toxicity is based on the amount, or the dose that a person has ingested or been exposed to, not necessarily the product itself.

“Every person who answers the phone is a specially trained medical expert,” Steverson explains. When you call us, you’re getting immediate help like you’d expect with 911, but from people who deal with poisonings all day every day.

That expertise could mean you’re able to be treated without leaving your home.But it’s more than that. It’s also about using resources wisely. 

Our emergency departments are stretched thin, especially now. We can save many patients the cost of going to the ER. It’s a better use of resources,” Lockhart says. 

If it’s determined you do need to go to the hospital, someone frompoison control will call ahead and let the staff there know to expect you, what the situation is, and what lab work may need to be done.

“I don’t want people to think calling us first is wasting time,” Lockhart saysIf anything, it could be saving time, because we can help expedite the process.”

What Lockhart, Steverson and their colleagues want people to know most of all is that poisoning is preventable. Make sure medications, cosmetics, household cleaners and other chemicals as well as foreign objects like silica gels, batteries and coins, are kept out of reach of children. But it’s also important to note that children are not the only ones who may fall victim to poisoning.

We have adults who mistakenly take their medications or take more than they intended to or they picked up the wrong bottle,” Lockhart says. 

Poison control receives calls from people in all stages of life, fromexpecting parents wondering if something will impact their unborn baby to older adults who are unsure of what to do after a medication mishap.

We’re here for patient safetyFor everyone. There is no judgment,” Lockhart says. “And no matter what language you speak, your socio-economic status, we’re able to work with anybody and everybody.

Interpreters are available and services are free, private and confidential. 

We just want to make sure you’re safe or your loved one is safe, Lockhart says. “It’s a wonderful feeling to know at the end of the day that you’ve helped a family.” 

March 21-27, 2021 is National Poison Prevention Week. If you suspect poisoning, you can call 1-800-222-1222 any time, day or night. Program the number to poison control into your phone for quick access. The service is free and confidential. You can also chat online with poison control by visiting