It may come as no surprise that the Washington Poison Center — which provides free emergency assistance to more than 75,000 callers statewide each year — is located in Seattle. What may be more surprising is that the emergency call center isn’t located downtown, but in our own neck of the woods, just south of Thornton Place on Northeast 100th Street.
And although the Washington Poison Center is an important service (available by calling 1-800-222-1222) that many residents will depend on in some point in their lives, it’s not actually a state agency but a nonprofit that needs your help.
Next week it’s inviting you to “An Evening of Fine Wine and Friends,” from 6:30-9:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 7, at Fremont Studios, 155 N. 35th St. The $45-per-person fundraiser features wines from around the world and hors d’oeuvres, not to mention a visit from the nonprofit’s well-known mascot, Mr. Yuk.
“It’s like a great big cocktail party at a movie theater,” said Terri Suzuki, development manager at the Washington Poison Center. “I just took Mr. Yuk to get fitted for his tux. He’s wearing a white tux with tails this year.”
She added that the need to raise funds is great this year, after the state cut $11o,000 from its contract with the Poison Center, followed by an unexpected equivalent cut from the federal government.
He’s more than just a sticker
If you do make it to the event or any of the nonprofit’s others that are attended by Mr. Yuk, don’t take his appearance there for granted. The Washington Poison Center is actually the only poison center in the nation that is an independent nonprofit (most that are nonprofit are connected to a university or hospital, Suzuki says), which means it’s also the only one that features Mr. Yuk as more than just a sticker, but as a mascot.
That standing also allows the state poison center to invite kids to enter the Poison Prevention Week poster contest, an annual contest that awards an artist between the ages of 6-12 by posting their creation all around the state. Depending on the amount of money raised, that could mean posters throughout schools and other locations, or even billboards statewide if enough money is raised, said Suzuki, pictured at left with posters of previous winners.
The winning student also is awarded $500, with four runners-up each receiving $100. Participants have until Jan. 6 to send in their poster (rules and tips).
‘Our only job is to save lives’
However, one of the most important aspects about the Washington Poison Center being independent is that callers never need to worry that any question or concern they have will be reported to the police or any other government agency.
“Our only job is to save lives,” Suzuki said. She stresses that calls are confidential, and that callers never have to give their names, although they are asked to provide a ZIP code to help the Poison Center track trends that could save more lives in the future.
“Even if somebody never calls, we’re still protecting them because we watch for trends,” Suzuki explained, adding that all of the data they collect is compiled and sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help discover any threats that emergency rooms and other health care facilities should be aware of.
“We want people just to ask questions and not worry about feeling dumb or that it’s a stupid question,” she said. Even if you’re just wondering whether it’s safe to mix two over-the-counter drugs, it never hurts to call and ask.
You know how on the back of your pill bottles, it tells you to “ask a health professional” whether it’s safe to consume its contents? Because the call center is staffed by doctors, nurses and poison specialists, they count as that “health professional,” and unlike most doctors or pharmacists, they’re available 24 hours a day.
“We’d like it if people would call before they poison themselves,” Suzuki adds.
Want that number again? It’s 1-800-222-1222.