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Anxious callers turn to toxicology hotline for advice

Over 30,000 calls were made to the toxicology hotline in 2000

(Keystone Archive)

Worried parents have been the most frequent callers on a telephone hotline run by the Swiss Toxicology Information Centre. Some 41 per cent of calls concerned children younger than five who swallowed contraceptive pills or other medicines, plants or household products.

In one case, a 15-month-old baby died after swallowing methadone, which is commonly prescribed to heroin users as a substitute drug for the treatment of addiction.

"The common sense advice we give to parents of small children is they shouldn't store harmful substances at home - if they have to, they should lock them away very securely," says Hugo Kupferschmidt of the Centre.

Overall, calls to the hotline, which is run by the Toxicological Centre for the general public, rose to 30,935 last year, compared with 29,669 in 1999.

The Zurich-based Centre handled 15 fatal cases involving adults last year, with 11 of those deaths caused by poisoning from medicines.

In all, there were 17,240 serious cases of poisoning caused by accidents which occurred at home. Of those, 3,948 were suicide attempts.

"Most of the cases of overdose in adults are deliberate poisoning with suicidal intentions," explains Kupferschmidt.

The hotline also attracted 59 would-be murderers, who intended to poison their victims.

Many people just want to know if a substance is dangerous and what to do. "Often they don't have to do anything at all, but in a lot of cases, we also have to advise them to seek medical attention," said Kupferschmid.

Nearly 1,000 callers had questions relating to the consumption of alcohol, drugs and other recreational substances.

In 28 cases, people ended up in a coma as a result of drug taking, mostly induced by the designer drug GHB (Gamma-Hydroxybutyrat).

Doping-hotline helps athletes

Two Swiss athletes a week have called a special "doping hotline" for advice on toxic substances since its inception in April, 2000. Athletes pay a fee for information usually relating to whether cold remedies or medicines might contain substances featured on the doping list.

The hotline, set up for athletes, is run by the Swiss Toxicological Information Centre, and was created in collaboration with the Swiss Olympic association. Up-to-date information on doping is provided by Matthias Kamber, an expert from the Swiss Sports Association.

"It shows the athletes that they can reach somebody who can tell them about drugs and whether they can take them," Kupferschmid told swissinfo.

The centre said calls came from athletes and associations from all sports disciplines.

The centre discourages athletes from taking dubious substances, even if they are not specifically mentioned on the doping list. "The only thing we tell them is if a drug is banned or not," said Kupferschmid.

swissinfo with agencies


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