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Is it venomous?

Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center gives teaching tour about common venomous creatures

A collection of venomous animals displayed in the Arizona Poison & Drug Information Center. 

Arizona is the venom capital of the U.S., and most of the venomous creatures can be found within an hour's drive of Tucson. 

Even so, more Arizonans die each year from accidental poisoning or drug overdose than from any other cause, according to the The University of Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center.

The APDIC has specialists and experts in the call center who receive approximately 150 calls a day. Phone lines are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

The Arizona state legislature established the center in 1980, and the College of Pharmacy directs the APDIC, which serves 14 of the state's 15 counties – about 2.5 million residents.

Keith Boesen, director of the Poison Control Center, lead a tour of the APDIC on Wednesday, Sept. 27. He said the center doesn’t have tracking technology like 911; all calls are free and confidential.

“We get calls about chemical risks, medication problems, radiation poison and exposure to plants and animals,” Boesen said.

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Some creatures are on display in the APDIC, including bark scorpions, Gila monsters, several types of rattlesnakes and many tarantulas. 

There are 12,000 scorpion stings every year in Arizona alone but only bark scorpion stings require serious medical attention and anti-venom, Boesen said. It’s a small scorpion, reaching only an inch and a half at maturity. It is also the best climber of the scorpion species, making it extra dangerous. 

The bark scorpion can be distinguished from other, less-toxic species by its more slender tail segments and pincers. Its venom affects the body by causing muscle-twitching, difficulty breathing and the release of neurotoxins into the body and brain, according to Boesen.

The only dangerous venomous lizards in the world are Gila monsters, which are on the International Union for Conservation Center’s Near Threatened list, with trends of decreases in population. Reported bites of the Gila are rare, with less than 10 bites a year, according to Boesen.

The pit viper type of rattlesnakes are only found in the Americas, according to the Encyclopedia of Life website. Pit vipers are scientifically specified by their heat sensing organs, which they use to “see” prey. They only use venom as a last resort, as it uses calories to make venom, Boesen said. 

Bites from rattlesnakes can cause damage to localized area of tissue near the bite, Boesen said, and cause thinning of the blood and the release of neurotoxins to the body. 

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“Never suck out the venom, even though that is shown in movies and T.V.,” Boesen said. “Don’t use a tourniquet either. The only treatment for bites is the anti-venom. Some bites take 12 to 20 vials on average of anti-venom to clear the venom.”

Tarantulas are also on display at the APDIC. Boesen said they are “happy giants” that have a special patch of hair on their backs that can be released and cause irritation to skin. They also won’t bite unless they are provoked or see prey.

Boesen said during the tour that the center uploads real-time surveillance of data from the cases reported to center every eight minutes. Using this data, they can detect outbreaks and notice common side effects from medicines.

The national phone number for the call center is 1-800-222-1222, which will connect you to the closest poison center to you.

The APDIC website said the future of the center is uncertain, as government funding remains insufficient to operate a 24/7 service. The center is federally funded by Health Resources and Services Administration, and in 2009 the funding was cut by 90 percent for poison centers in Arizona.

Similar poison centers in Louisiana and Michigan have closed according to the APDIC website, which results in increased emergency room visits.

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