A Novel Approach to Informing the Public about the Risks of Overdose and Nonmedical Use of Prescription Medications

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Poison centers answer telephone calls from persons requesting identification of tablets. Many of these calls are from people for whom the tablets were not prescribed and potentially represent nonmedical use. Implementation of a telephone-based program of overdose prevention and screening for nonmedical use of prescription medications is examined.


Social workers with experience in substance abuse disorders were hired by a poison center to answer telephone calls from persons asking for tablet identification. The social workers asked questions regarding demographics, provided the ingredients, provided overdose prevention/safety information, and offered referral to treatment to callers who desired it.


A total of 17,616 tablet identification calls from the public were answered by the social workers during the 20-month study period. Most callers were Caucasian with median age 33 years (range 18–93 years). Overdose prevention/safety information, aimed mostly at reducing polydrug use, was delivered to 6,635 (37.7%) callers.


Treatment resource information was provided to 3,775 (21.4%) callers. A telephone-based service made up of social workers interacted with several thousand individuals potentially at risk for adverse outcomes from nonmedical use of prescription medications and delivered overdose/safety information. Although further study is needed, this type of service can complement existing state/community efforts aimed at education regarding the nonmedical use of prescription medications. (Am J Addict 2013;22:108-112)

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