What To Expect When You Call

If you need to call the Maryland Poison Center (MPC) but have never called before, you may be wondering how we handle the calls we receive. We hope the information below will provide you with some insight.

People call the MPC for a variety of reasons. We regularly receive calls about:

  • Drugs and medicines (i.e., prescription, over-the-counter, vitamins, supplements, illegal/recreational, or veterinary)
  • Household, garden, and personal care products
  • Chemicals (at home and work)
  • Plants (i.e., mushrooms, indoor and outdoor plants)
  • Bites and stings (i.e., insects, snakes, animals)
  • Environmentals (i.e., gases, fumes)
  • Food poisoning
  • Any items that give individuals an unwanted or unexpected reaction

Call the MPC as soon as you suspect a poisoning or overdose. The MPC offers its services to both the public and health care professionals.

When should I call the MPC?

You should call the MPC as soon as you suspect a poisoning or overdose. Do not wait for symptoms.

Will I need to pay a fee to call the MPC?

No. All calls to the MPC are free. MPC services are supported through federal and state dollars, grants, and contracts, as well as private donations.

What should I do before calling the MPC?

Review our first aid for poisoning tips for actions you can take before calling us. Do not make a person vomit if you suspect he or she has swallowed something harmful. Instruct the person to rinse out his or her mouth if something was swallowed or rinse out his or her eye if something was splashed in the eye.

Who will I speak with when I call?

MPC phones are answered by pharmacists and nurses who have received special training in toxicology. MPC staff have more than 230 years of combined experience answering poisoning and overdose calls. You should never feel embarrassed to call the MPC. Even nurses, doctors, pharmacists, and paramedics call us for assistance when treating poisoning and overdose patients.

What will the specialist ask me?

As soon as you call, the specialist you speak to will ask you a number of questions to help him or her better understand your unique situation, including questions about the patient:

  • Age
  • Weight
  • Health conditions
  • Medications

In addition, the specialist will also ask for specifics about the situation:

  • The substance
  • How long ago it happened
  • The amount involved
  • Symptoms the person is having

Once the specialist has all of the necessary information, he or she will determine the best plan of action. You may be placed on hold briefly while calculations are performed or other references are consulted.

What personal information will I need to provide?

The specialist you speak with will ask for your name and phone number to start a medical record. This record has the same privacy protections as the medical record in your doctor's office. If you prefer not to provide this information, you do not have to. However, we may need a phone number to make a follow-up call to make sure symptoms have resolved or to make sure that symptoms did not develop later. We also ask for your zip code to help us better understand from which parts of the state we receive calls.

What will the specialist tell me to do?

Because every call is different, the MPC manages each call based on the information gathered. Approximately 70 percent of calls can be managed at home. Some cases can be managed by having the patient drink water, while other cases may require more specific treatment. Other calls may need to be referred to a physician or hospital. If you are referred to the hospital, the specialist will call the hospital to let them know that you are on the way and provide recommendations for your treatment. The MPC will continue to follow up on your care until you have been discharged.