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NATION'S POISON-CONTROL CENTERS STRUGGLING TO SAVE THEIR OWN LIVES

Anxious for quick information, callers to an eastern Ohio poison-control line instead got this message this month: "The services of the Mahoning Valley Poison Center are no longer available. Consult your physician."

The nation's poison centers, beset by financial difficulties, continue to close, cut services and scrounge for money to stay in the business of saving lives.There were some 2.3 million calls to poison-control centers last year seeking fast telephone help in treating people who had swallowed harmful substances, suffered animal, insect or snake bites or inhaled toxic fumes. Nearly 1 million of the calls involved children under 6 years old.

Federal health officials have been researching possible funding options since last summer and are expected to report on them before the end of the year.

St. Elizabeth's Medical Center in Youngstown, Ohio, can no longer afford the $260,000 it costs to support the Mahoning Valley center, which closed Aug. 1 after three decades, said administrative director Nancy Siefert. The facility served four counties along the Ohio-Pennsylvania border.

Even the nation's capital hasn't been immune.

The National Capital Poison Center that serves the District of Columbia and neighboring counties in Maryland and Virginia was in danger of closing last year. But it has cobbled together enough money to stay open at least through June, said Rose Ann Soloway, administrator of the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

High-volume poison centers in Arizona and Illinois escaped closing this year as smaller ones in Illinois, Michigan and Ohio folded. Meanwhile, Washington state consolidated four poison centers into one.

"This is a situation that has really not been resolved," Soloway said.

The Duke University Poison Control Center will be closing its doors Aug. 31 after more than 40 years after losing $238,000 in state funding, said medical director Dr. Shirley Osterhout.

"This is something we've been dreading for years," Osterhout said.

But North Carolina won't be without a state poison-control center. The work will be taken over by Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, N.C., which already was running its own center and won the state contract.