The Canadian Association for Poison Centres and Clinical Toxicology
Established in 1982, the Canadian Association of Poison Centres and Clinical Toxicology (formerly called the Canadian Association of Poison Control Centres) provides a centralized, volunteer forum for communication, information and idea exchange among Canada’s five poison centres.
While its members are primarily professionals working in the poison centres, other members have included:
Public Health Staff
Canada’s Poison Centres
Today’s five centres, established in the 1980s and 1990s to respond to public inquiries about poison exposure, took over from local emergency-department-based poison response telephone lines.
While initially calls to the centres came from the public, over the years, healthcare providers have come to rely on the toxicological expertise of poison centre staff to assist with management of poisoned patients who present to healthcare facilities across the country.
Half the received calls are about a child and half are about adult exposure to poison.
Each centre strives to follow the criteria as set by the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) for certification. Registered nurses and pharmacists answering the information lines in each of these Canadian centres are eligible for certification as a Specialist in Poison Information.
Eligibility for certification includes:
handling 2,000 human exposure calls
a written examination as set by the AAPCC
at least two years of full-time employment at a poison centre
As poison centres are funded provincially, each province has different reporting requirements and formats. Currently, no federal government department keeps of reports national poisoning statistics, except for those resulting in death.
In 2020, Parachute, Canada’s national charity dedicated to injury prevention, and the Injury Prevention Centre at the University of Alberta coauthored the Evidence Summary for the Prevention of Poisoning in Canada. The poison centres worked closely with the report authors and it provides the best – though not complete – current picture of poisoning information for Canada.
The centres provide the following online contacts to request statistical information:
The Association provides a centralized forum for communication, information and idea exchange among Canadian Poison Centres. In 1998, a member newsletter “The Bulletin” was started and is produced quarterly. Association members have agreed to a national Poison Prevention Week date, to coincide with the American Association of Poison Control Centers date in March, and are developing a process of sharing resources to realize this collaborative educational promotion venture.
To find ways to reduce the morbidity and mortality from poisonings.
To represent Poison Centres as a group in interactions with public health and governmental agencies.
To set standards for poison control centre operations.
To promote scientific research in the area of toxicology.
To provide a forum for poison control centres and individuals or institutions interested in toxicology to discuss matters of mutual concern.
To establish educational programs for health professionals with an interest or involvement in poison control.
To set up, or to evaluate existing injury prevention programs and materials for the public.
To partner with the American Association of Poison Control Centres, to hold a joint Annual Scientific Meeting which attracts participants from North America as well as from other countries.
To represent Canadian Centres at the World Federation of Associations of Poison Centres and Clinical Toxicology Centres.
Accessing product information: a key challenge
When the Canadian Poison Control Program started in 1957, patent and proprietary medicine formulas were registered in the then federal Food and Drugs Directorate. Because of confidentiality, only selected information was given to a physician on direct request or in an emergency. In 1965, there was no regulation that allowed for product information to be given to poison centres.
To address this problem, Health and Welfare Canada collaborated with industry and manufacturers to establish a voluntary mechanism to collect and distribute product formulations to the poison centres. The federal government product database was maintained and distributed until 1986 when the program was cut.
In 1988, this responsibility was handed over the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS), which agreed to receive Canadian product formulations from industry and manufacturers. The CAPCC decided that the needs of its members would be best served by incorporating the Canadian data into the existing U.S.-based POISINDEX database that was presently being used by all members.
The Canadian federal data files were downloaded into the POISINDEX system and updates provided. Late in 2005, the Ottawa Regional Poison Centre based at Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, which up to then had maintained POISINDEX entries, closed. After this, only a limited amount of Canadian information has been sent to be included in POISINDEX.
Some Canadian companies, primarily industrial, submit their product information to the centre for Occupational Health, based in Hamilton ON, which maintains a database on potentially poisonous products used in workplaces.