Mission & Services

The Tennessee Poison Center (TPC) was established in 1988 as a program of Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Prior to 2004, the Tennessee Poison Center served 57 Tennessee counties in middle, upper east and southeast Tennessee. As of February 1, 2004, the Tennessee Poison Center is the only poison control center in Tennessee and serves more than 6.8 residents in 95 counties.

Poisoning is a much larger health problem than has generally been recognized, and it continues across the entire lifespan. In Tennessee, poisoning is the #1 leading cause of injury death for all residents, surpassing motor vehicle crashes.

Cases of unintentional drug overdose and suicide attempts are more likely to occur in adolescents and young adults, and the elderly are at risk for poisoning due to situations such as mixing medications or accidentally taking the wrong dosage. In addition, new concerns about biological and chemical threats have elevated poisoning to a national security issue of public health importance.

Physicians, hospitals, public health departments, and the public depend on the Tennessee Poison Center to provide state-of-the-art emergency advice and treatment information 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. The Tennessee Poison Center is the statewide poison control center designated by the Tennessee Department of Health. Additionally, it is nationally accredited by the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC).

Our staff consists of two board-certified medical toxicologists, 11 poison specialists, and two administrative positions. In addition, the Tennessee Poison Center has an active Community Board that advises TPC on poison related issues.  

The Tennessee Poison Center receives funding from these sources:

  • Government grants (state and federal)
  • Institutional funding from Vanderbilt University Medical Center
  • Donations from Tennessee hospitals
  • Community funding from 13 United Way agencies
  • Private foundations and public philanthropy

The Tennessee Poison Center measures our success by the number of poison victims it serves; the healthcare costs it averts, and the peace of mind it delivers to more than 6.8 million Tennessee residents.

  • The Tennessee Poison Center (TPC) saves lives and helps reduce healthcare costs through these programs:

    • A toll-free, medical telephone hotline (Poison Help 1-800-222-1222) for poison emergency and information calls. Poison specialists, who are registered nurses, pharmacists and physicians, answer the telephone hotline 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. These poison specialists give first aid treatment advice or hospital referrals and answer poison questions. Two board-certified toxicologists provide medical back-up 24/7. All Tennessee calls to the Poison Help hotline will be answered by the poison specialists at the TPC. Currently, our poison specialists answer between 250-300 calls each day.
    • Poison prevention education programs. Anyone can be a poison victim, at any time. Most poisonings involve medicines or household products. Though 49% of poison exposures involved children age five years and under, 86% of adults accounted for poison-related deaths in 2019. Poison prevention education efforts reach all 95 TN counties through a partnership with the University of Tennessee Extension Educators. This partnership won a Frist Foundation Award of Achievement in Team Building. In 2019, the TPC distributed over 239,414 pieces of poison prevention literature to residents and healthcare professionals statewide.
    • Statewide surveillance for chemical and biological terrorism. The TPC is an integral part of Tennessee’s homeland security program. Data from the TPC is sent to Washington, D.C. as part of the nationwide surveillance for bioterrorism. No other organization in Tennessee provides statewide surveillance for a chemical or biological threats.

    The Poison Help hotline is toll-free, and the education and surveillance programs are provided free of charge to Tennessee residents. The TPC receives funding from the state of Tennessee, federal government, institutional funding from Vanderbilt University Medical Center, hospitals that utilize our services, community funding in 13 United Way agencies, two foundations, one United Fund, and individual donations.

    Thanks to the funding received, in 2019, the TPC saved the taxpayers of TN an estimated 18.1 million dollars by preventing unnecessary emergency department visits for the underinsured

  • IN-PATIENT TOXICOLOGY ADMITTING SERVICE

    Patients with accidental or deliberate overdoses of drugs, acute medical problems due to toxic chemical exposures, or adverse drug reaction may be transferred to Vanderbilt Hospital to receive toxicology evaluation and expertise. The majority of overdose patients require admission to the Medical Intensive Care Unit. Physicians who wish to refer patients requiring toxicological evaluation may do so either through Tennessee Poison Center (615-936-0760) or the transfer service.

    OUT-PATIENT TOXICOLOGY SERVICE

    Physician referral is required for toxicology service. Appointments may be made by calling Tennessee Poison Center (615-936-0760 or 615-936-2034).

    The American College of Medical Toxicology has established criteria for Regional Poison Treatment Centers. These hospitals have qualified and available personnel, laboratory capabilities, and intensive care facilities able to treat all life-threatening poisoning emergencies. These requirements are similar to hospitals that are designated as trauma centers for trauma patients. Because of Tennessee Poison Center, Analytic Laboratory Services, and Intensive Care Facilities, Vanderbilt University Medical Center is such a Center.

    SERVICES

    IN-PATIENT TOXICOLOGY CONSULT SERVICE

    The Toxicology Consult Service sees both adult and pediatric patients at Vanderbilt University Medical Center who have accidental or deliberate overdoses of drugs, acute medical problems due to toxic chemical exposures, or adverse drug reactions.

    OUT-PATIENT TOXICOLOGY SERVICE

    Physicians who would like to place a referral to the Toxicology clinic can call the Tennessee Poison Center’s Administrative Office at 615-936-0760. The Administrative Office hours are 7:30am – 4:00pm (CST), Monday- Friday. A medical toxicologist will review the referral prior to any appointments to ensure our clinic can best serve your patient.

  • Various materials are available for health professionals to educate staff and patients about poison prevention and the expertise of TPC.

    Please call (615) 936-0760 if you would like to order any of the following. Click here to see a visual of some materials available!

    Poison Help brochures: Available in English and Spanish

    A tri-fold brochure teaching poison prevention. It includes poison prevention tips, ways to prevent poisonings at home, and how a poison center can help with poison emergencies or information.

    Prevent a Poisoning cards:  Available in English, Spanish, Kurdish, and Vietnamese

    A two-sided card listing poison prevention for the home.

    Poison Help magnets: Available in English and Spanish

    Perfect to put on any magnetic surface, such as a refrigerator as a reminder to call the Poison Help hotline in a poison emergency.

    Poison Help phone stickers: Available  in English and Spanish

    Small phone stickers to put on any stationary phone (office or nurses station) to keep the Poison Help hotline number is a visible location. 

    TPC and Terrorism brochure: Available in English

    A tri-fold brochure about chemical and biological terrorism. It includes, types of biological and chemical agents, how TPC responds, how to prepare your family, and what to do if a suspected threat occurs.

    Save the Number to Your Cell Phone business cards: Available in English and Spanish

    A business card that includes information about the TPC and what to do in a poison emergency.

    Is It Medicine or Candy? poster: Available in English and Spanish

    Demonstrates how closely some medicines resemble candy.

    How Safe is Your House? Available in English and Spanish

    This poster provides 10 tips on how to poison proof your home. 

  • Various materials are available for educators to help teach poison prevention. If you are a UT Extension Educator, please call for additional program materials.

    Please call (615) 936-0760 if you would like to order any of the following. Please note, some items have limited quantities. Click here to see a visual of some materials available!

    Poison Help brochures: Available in English and Spanish
    A tri-fold brochure teaching poison prevention. It includes poison prevention tips, ways to prevent poisonings at home, and how a poison center can help with poison emergencies or information.

    Prevent a Poisoning cards:  Available in English, Spanish, Kurdish, and Vietnamese
    A two-sided card listing poison prevention for the home.

    Spike's Poison Prevention Adventure in English (limited quantities available)
    A poison prevention program for pre-school aged children. Available in DVD and VHS format. Includes Poison Help phone stickers, paper puppets, and other poison prevention materials for families.

    Poison Help magnets: Available in English and Spanish,

    Perfect to put on any magnetic surface, such as a refrigerator as a reminder to call the Poison Help hotline in a poison emergency.

    Poison Help phone stickers: Available  in English and Spanish
    Small phone stickers to put on any stationary phone (office or nurses station) to keep the Poison Help hotline number is a visible location. 

    TPC and Terrorism brochure: Available in English

    A tri-fold brochure about chemical and biological terrorism. It includes, types of biological and chemical agents, how TPC responds, how to prepare your family, and what to do if a suspected threat occurs.

    Save the Number to Your Cell Phone business cards: Available in English and Spanish

    A business card that includes information about the TPC and what to do in a poison emergency.

    Coloring sheets for children: Available in English and Spanish
    Coloring sheets are available with word games, coloring pages and other activities that will help reinforce poison prevention information.

    Is It Medicine or Candy? poster: Available in English and Spanish
    Demonstrates how closely some medicines resemble candy.

    How Safe is Your House? Available in English and Spanish

    This poster provides 10 tips on how to poison proof your home. 

  • Anyone can be a poison victim. Though children have higer rates of poison exposures, more adults die from it. Education is key to prevent a poisoning. Various materials are available for Tennessee residents to learn about TPC's expertise and poison prevention.

    Please call (615) 936-0760 if you would like to order any of the following:

    Poison Help brochures: Available in English and Spanish

    A tri-fold brochure teaching poison prevention. It includes poison prevention tips, ways to prevent poisonings at home, and how a poison center can help with poison emergencies or information.

    Prevent a Poisoning cards:  Available in English, Spanish, Kurdish, and Vietnamese

    A two-sided card listing poison prevention for the home.

    Poison Help magnets: Available in English and Spanish

    Perfect to put on any magnetic surface, such as a refrigerator as a reminder to call the Poison Help hotline in a poison emergency.

    Poison Help phone stickers: Available  in English and Spanish

    Small phone stickers to put on any stationary phone (office or nurses station) to keep the Poison Help hotline number is a visible location. 

    TPC and Terrorism brochure: Available in English

    A tri-fold brochure about chemical and biological terrorism. It includes, types of biological and chemical agents, how TPC responds, how to prepare your family, and what to do if a suspected threat occurs.

    Save the Number to Your Cell Phone business cards: Available in English and Spanish

    A business card that includes information about the TPC and what to do in a poison emergency.

    Is It Medicine or Candy? poster: Available in English and Spanish

    Demonstrates how closely some medicines resemble candy.

    How Safe is Your House? Available in English and Spanish

    This poster provides 10 tips on how to poison proof your home. 

    Poisonous Plants in English

    A one page flyer that lists toxic and non-toxic plants in Tennessee.

  • Anyone can be a poison victim at any time. In fact, poisoning is the #1 leading cause of injury death in Tennessee. By calling the statewide Poison Help hotline at 1-800-222-1222, callers will receive immediate first aid treatment advice for poison emergencies. The TPC is available to help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. The TPC also provides information about poisons and poison prevention. The TPC can help you with questions about:

    • Household products
    • Chemicals at work or in the environment
    • Drugs (prescription, over the counter, herbal and illegal)
    • Snake and spider bites
    • Chemical or biological terrorism

    For life-saving treatment advice about any kind of poison, call 1-800-222-1222 first. A specialty trained registered nurse, pharmacist or physician will help. All calls are toll-free, fast and confidential.

    The TPC's services also available in more than 150 languages for non-English speakers

  • Most poisonings occur in the home. Parents, grandparents, and other caregivers need to remember that it only takes seconds for a poisoning to occur when children are able to reach household chemcials and medicines.

    Here are some basic poison prevention tips:

    Store Poisons Safely

    • Store medicines and household products locked up, where children cannot see or reach them
    • Store poisons in their original containers
    • Use child-resisitant packaging. But remember - nothing is child-proof!

    Use Poisons Safely

    • Read the label. Follow the directions on medicines and products.
    • Are children around? Take the product or medicine with you to answer the door or the phone.
    • Lock products and medicines up after using them.
    • Is it medicine? Call it medicine, not candy.
    • Children learn by imitation. Take your medicines where children can't watch.

    Teach Children to Ask First

    • Poisons can look like food or drink. Teach children to ask an adult before eating or drinking anything.

    For more tips, log on to the website for the American Association of Poison Control Centers at https://aapcc.org/

    mistaken identity

  • Tennessee Poison Center has various activity sheets for children that reinforce poison prevention lessons with games, coloring pages and other kid activites. To request copies, call our Administrative Office at (615) 936-0760.

    • What's the purpose of a poison center?
      Tennessee Poison Center saves lives and saves money. We save lives by providing emergency treatment advice to everyone in Tennessee. We answer calls from a parent whose toddler drank a household cleaner, from an emergency physician who calls for treatment advice for an overdose patient and to everyone who might have a poison emergency or information call. Tennessee Poison Center saves money by managing 70% of its cases at home, rather than in an emergency room or physician's office. For every $1 that is spent on a call to Tennessee Poison Center, $14 is saved in other medical care spending.
       
    • Is there more than one Poison Center in Tennessee?
      No. Tennessee Poison Center, located in Nashville, is the only poison center in the state. Tennessee Poison Center is certified as the statewide poison control center by the Tennessee Department of Health.
       
    • Does Tennessee Poison Center offer materials in any language other than English? Yes. Tennessee Poison Center has poison prevention materials available in several languages. Call 615-936-0760 for additional information.
       
    • Can I call Tennessee Poison Center if I just have a question, not a poison emergency?
      Yes! Tennessee Poison Center handles thousands of poison information calls each year.
       
    • What does a person look like when he/she is poisoned?
      A poison victim may not look or act sick. If you think someone has been poisoned, call Tennessee Poison Center (1-800-222-1222). Never wait to see if there are symptoms.
       
    • What is the most common poison?
      There is not one poison that is the most common. The most common substances for Tennessee Poison Center are:
      • Analgesics (Pain Relievers)
      • Household Cleaning Products
      • Cosmetics/Personal Care Products
      • Sedative/hypnotics/antipsychotics
      • Antihistamines
      • Cardiovascular Drugs
      • Antidepressants
    • How does Tennessee Poison Center help with homeland security?
      Tennessee Poison Center is an integral part of our state's disaster planning. TPC is the only organization in Tennessee that provides surveillance for chemical or biological terrorism. Every few minutes data from Tennessee Poison Center is sent to Washington, DC to monitor for potential bioterrorism.
  • "Always Ask First" is a program developed by Tennessee Poison Center that helps keep children safe from poisons.

    This program is taught in Tennessee schools in grades kindergarten through eight. Children are taught how to identify a poison by using look-a-likes: poisonous products that look like products children enjoy eating and drinking. Children are taught the most important safety rule for poisons - "Always ask a grown-up first before you eat or drink anything". And we teach children to call Tennessee Poison Center first if there is a poison emergency.

    If you would like more information regarding Tennessee Poison Center's "Always Ask First" program, please call the educational outreach department at 615-936-0760.

  • The Tennessee Poison Center (TCP) provides poison prevention outreach to all 95 TN counties. This program provides information and education to the public, health care professionals, educators, industry managers and workers, the press, and individuals requesting information or assistance with identifying possible risks within the community resulting from exposure to poisons or hazardous materials.

    The major goals of the outreach program are to:

    • Develop community-based health and safety programs
    • Develop instructional materials for primary and secondary education
    • Promote the Poison Help hotline service
    • Provide community-based poison prevention and intervention programs

    The TPC collaborates with the University of Tennessee Extension (UTEE) to provide poison prevention outreach to all Tennesseans. The UTEE present community-based programs and assists the TPC with extending the reach of poison prevention education. This collaboration with the UTEE won a prestigious Frist Foundation Award of Achievement in the Team Building category.

    For more information regarding the University of Tennessee Extension and their Be Poison Safe program, please visit their website.

  • The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) establishes standards for poison control centers in the United States. The purpose of accreditation is to ensure that all residents of a given geographic area have access to the highest quality of certified poison center services. Certification criteria include poison information services, regional treatment capabilities, data collection capabilities, and professional and public education program.

    Once a poison center meets these standards, they may apply for accreditation to become a nationally certified poison center. In the United States there are 55 poison control centers. Tennessee Poison Center achieved national accreditation in 1996, the only poison center in TN.

    Accreditation criteria include:

    • Provide information 24 hours/day, 365 days/year to both health professionals and the public.
    • Provide full-time toxicological supervision.
    • Identify the treatment capabilities of the treatment facilities of the region.
    • Provide information on the management of poisoning to the health professionals throughout the region who care for poisoned patients.
    • Provide a variety of public education activities.

    For more information on the American Association of Poison Control Centers, visit their web site at www.aapcc.org.