I am the I in IWK: Stephen Doyle, specialist in poison information

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Stephen Doyle is a specialist in poison information and a licensed pharmacist at the IWK on the Atlantic Canada Poison Centre (ACPC) team.

Coincidentally—or maybe not—National Poison Prevention Week and Pharmacy Month overlap during this week of March each year. And those celebrations may have more in common than you think.

Doyle is one of four pharmacists and nine nurses that work at the ACPC as specialists in poison information. The centre operates a 24-hour, phone consultation service to both the public and health care professionals throughout Atlantic Canada. They provide information on real or potential exposure to toxins. Pharmacists add a unique perspective within the poison centre due to their extensive knowledge of pharmacology and backgrounds in community and hospital pharmacy.

“The majority of exposure calls we get at the poison centre are pharmaceutical substances so having a background in pharmacy is very beneficial,” says Doyle. “But the different perspectives brought to the poison centre by both pharmacists and nurses provides an opportunity for collaboration, resulting in better overall care.”

Of the calls the centre responds to, a significant proportion are related to unintentional therapeutic errors. In 2022 that equated to 1864 calls, or 18 per cent of their overall call volume. Medications are one of the top three most common causes of poisoning in children (the others being cleaners and personal care products).

“Common examples of this type of call are someone taking a double dose of their medication, a parent accidentally giving the wrong dose of acetaminophen to their child, or a person injecting their short-acting insulin instead of long-acting insulin,” says Doyle.

In addition to responding to calls, Doyle and his colleagues carry out research, develop informational materials for use internally and to provide to other health care providers, coordinate the Nova Scotia Provincial Antidote Kit Program and oversee data collection and analysis in collaboration with Health Canada.

“This collaboration helps to inform timely action on poison prevention, treatment, harm reduction and management of risks associated with toxic exposures that are of public health concern,” says Doyle.

When in doubt, both Doyle and the ACPC recommend calling in as no call is too small. If you have a question or think a poisoning may have occurred, call the expert staff at the ACPC.

For ACPC contact information, visit atlanticcanadapoisoncentre.ca.

March 19–25 is National Poison Prevention Week. March is Pharmacy Awareness Month.