UCSF Magazine inside the California Poison Control System

Comic book illustration showing various people mired in poison emergencies and responders running to help.
Cat Sims

Every day, 700 Californians turn to the California Poison Control System (CPCS) for help during potential, or real, exposures to poisons. The “Masters of Poison” cover story of the summer issue of UCSF Magazine takes a look at the system, which is administered by the UCSF School of Pharmacy.

CPCS provides—over the phone, free, and 24 hours per day—expert information and advice to people who have been exposed to possible toxins and to medical professionals seeking treatment advice about real or possible exposures.

Sometimes, CPCS’s experts recommend immediate action, like hospitalization, but often they’re a welcome voice of relief. Through an extensive public education program, CPCS experts also aim to prevent exposures from occurring in the first place.

By directing people to the appropriate level of care for possible exposure incidents, the service ends up saving Californians an estimated $90 million per year in unnecessary medical costs — about seven times its annual budget.

About half the phone calls to CPCS concern children under age 5, and although their exposures are often benign or only mildly toxic, it can be hard to convince panicked parents that their child is going to be fine.

The CPCS call center also deals with public health emergencies. There are daily calls related to the very real opioid epidemic in America and related to accidental ingestion of marijuana products.



School of Pharmacy, Department of Clinical Pharmacy, PharmD Degree Program

About the School: The UCSF School of Pharmacy aims to solve the most pressing health care problems and strives to ensure that each patient receives the safest, most effective treatments. Our discoveries seed the development of novel therapies, and our researchers consistently lead the nation in NIH funding. The School’s doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree program, with its unique emphasis on scientific thinking, prepares students to be critical thinkers and leaders in their field.