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Poison Center celebrates decades of keeping New Mexicans safe

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The New Mexico Poison and Drug Information Center at the University of New Mexico College of Pharmacy in Albuquerque is highlighting their four decades of service to New Mexico.

Jacqueline Kakos is an education specialist at the center and she said its roots go back to July 1, 1977.

“The Poison Center officially opened under the College of Pharmacy as the New Mexico Poison and Medical Crisis Center,” she said.

“Our information would be printed on maps and other points of entry into the state for folks who were coming for specialized medical treatment. So we would not only be dealing with poisonings but also we would be acting as a point of reference for folks to get them to the proper facility and doctor,” Kakos added.

During those days, Kakos said there was a director and four other specialists who would answer the phone.

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“They were so dedicated and so set on serving every New Mexican, the same way, the same level of medical services that they worked around the clock to keep this place open for an entire year without minimal time off,” she said.

National Poison Prevention Week is March 18-24, however Kakos said the New Mexico Poison Center is highlighting their decades long accomplishments on the center’s Facebook page all month long.

As time evolved from 1977 to now, Kakos said technology has changed the way center personnel do their work.

“There were no computers, nothing like that, so they had to actually reference printed publications for the poisoning information to make sure that they had all the information in front of them and they also had to do all the calculations by hand to come up with the toxic levels for that person’s height, weight and circumstances,” she said.

In 1998, Kakos said the center became fully computerized and they also trained personnel to speak many languages.

“To date we have the ability to translate in over 70 different languages, including Navajo,” she said.

Kakos added that by 2007, the center had the ability to monitor poisonings in real time.

“So that gave us a real advantage to work with all kinds of different institutions, because they could use our system to monitor poison outbreaks before they became a full blown epidemic and catch them before it became a crisis,” she said.

Nearly five years ago, Kakos said the center received a charter from the State of New Mexico as an essential health service, “housed permanently at UNM. So that was a huge accomplishment, before then we were wondering if they were going to fund us, it does say now that, ‘we must exist as a UNM program.’

Kakos said people who live in rural parts of New Mexico, like Chaves and Eddy Counties, should memorize the hotline number as some people could be miles away from a medical facility.

“As opposed to spending time and money, call us for free and most likely we can handle everything safely on site or at home,” she said.

The number is 1-800-222-1222.

General assignment reporter Mike Smith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 307, or at sports2@rdrnews.com.