Parts Of Upstate Poison Center Report Reflect Impact Of COVID-19

Feb 11, 2021

Common household items that can be poisonous to children, or adults in large doses.
Credit WAER file photo

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is evident in the annual report from the Upstate New York Poison Center at SUNY Upstate. Administrative Director Michele Caliva says it’s no surprise that they received calls for what was likely overuse or misuse of cleaning products by both adults and children since last March.

“Whether it’s the adult who thinks that they still need to vigorously wash the outside of packages before they bring them into the house; or, they’re aggressively cleaning a bathroom and keeping the door closed and using multiple chemicals and causing a chemical reaction in the bathroom that’s unventilated; or it’s a child that sees mom and dad constantly spraying Clorox on the countertop, thinks it’s something that they should pick up and do as well.”

Caliva says cleaning products are always at the top of the list for kids 5 and under, as are cosmetics and personal care products. She says perhaps the biggest unintended consequence is children ingesting hand sanitizer, which can be life threatening due to its high alcohol content. Some toys also caused problems, including glow sticks and silica gel. But Caliva says adults continue to misuse over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen.

“One pill works so we think that maybe two works even better, so not being cognizant of the recommended dose. Making sure that you take what is safe to take in the course of the day. When we see people chronically taking too much or taking too much at one time, or thinking that it’s harmless because it’s over the counter, so we’re going to take a whole bunch of it and it’s not really going to hurt us.”

On the contrary, she says too much acetaminophen can cause severe liver damage. Caliva says children might grab the medicine and get sick if adults leave it within reach.  She says there’s also a concern among young teens who are intentionally misusing and abusing medications, which has led to bump in suicide attempts.

“That’s not where we’ve seen it in the past, it’s usually been older. So, checking in with the children in the household. They don’t have the same access to school and services and peer groups and specialists that can lay eyes on them.”

Caliva says the county’s COVID hotline can connect teens and others to mental health services, which have been available throughout the pandemic.  Toward that end, Congressmember John Katko has reintroduced three bipartisan bills that aim to provide services to those struggling with mental illness and substance use disorders.  That includes students in local schools, and those who seek help through counties and community-based organizations.