Duke Poison Control Center Records, 1951-1987

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Collection Number: MC.0044
Duke Poison Control Center Records, 1951 - 1987

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held in the Duke Medical Center Archives in Durham, N.C. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in our reading room, and not digitally available through the World Wide Web. See the FAQ section for more information.

Collection Overview

Size: 9.5 linear feet 6 record storage boxes, 1 document case
Abstract: Contains the records of the Duke Poison Control Center, established at Duke University in 1954 and headed by Jay Arena and later Shirley K. Osterhout. The Poison Control Center provided information to individuals and businesses about the product safety and chronic and acute management of poisoning through referrals, correspondence, and educational speakers. Types of materials include correspondence, pamphlets, brochures, reports, budgets, minutes, reprints, clippings, phone logs, departmental histories, and research Files. Major subjects include the Duke University Medical Center, Poison Control Centers, poisoning in children, accidental poisoning, prevention and treatment of poisoning, Jay Arena, and Shirley K. Osterhout. Materials range in date from 1951 to 1987.
Creator: Duke Poison Control Center.
Language: English
Repository Duke University Medical Center Archives
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Information for Users

Access Restrictions
Materials are restricted due to presence of personal health information. Contact the Medical Center Archivist to begin the use permissions process.
Usage Restrictions
Copyright for Official University records is held by Duke University; all other copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.
Preferred Citation
[Identification of item], Poison Control Center Records, Duke University Medical Center Archives.
Sensitive Materials Statement
Collections may contain Medical Center Administrative records. These include records of the officers of the University, as defined in the Bylaws, the deans of schools and colleges, and departments, institutes, and other offices as designated by the President. For a period of twenty-five years from the origin of the material, permission in writing from the director of the office of record and the Medical Center Archivist is required for use. After twenty-five years, records that have been processed may be consulted with the permission of the Medical Center Archivist.
Collection may contain Records of the Board of Trustees of the Duke University Medical Center. These include minutes and supporting documentation of the Board, its Executive Committee, and standing and ad hoc committees, and reports, studies, and the like presented solely to the Board. Records which have been existence for at least fifty years are available for scholarly research with the permission of the Medical Center Archivist. Access to records which have been in existence for less than fifty years shall be granted only by special permission, in writing, of the Medical Center Board of Trustees.
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Subject Headings

The following terms from Library of Congress Subject Headings and Medical Subject Headings suggest topics, persons, geography, etc. interspersed through the entire collection; the terms do not usually represent discrete and easily identifiable portions of the collectionsuch as folders or items.

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Related Collections

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Historical Info

The Duke Poison Control Center was organized in 1954 as the second center in the United States. From 1954 to 1959, the center was headed by Jay Arena (M.D., Duke, 1932) with Shirley K. Osterhout (A.B, Duke, 1953 and M.D., Duke, 1957) as the first clinical doctor. After leaving the center around 1959, Jay Arena, a pediatrician, continued to be active as a national speaker and writer on poison control topics. In 1959, Shirley K. Osterhout assumed the duties of medical director of the Poison Control Center. The Center was originally located in a space near Duke Hospital’s emergency room, which also contained a reference library and treatment room. The purpose of the center was to provide information to individuals about the chronic and acute management of poisoning. Staff also made referrals, answered letters about product safety, and provided speakers for educational purposes. The center provided information primarily to physicians directly, but later outreach efforts brought in calls from non-physicians, especially parents. National Poison Prevention Week activities, including a publicity and outreach fair complete with posters, stickers, brochures, and comic depictions of children and poisons, were outreach opportunities for the Duke Poison Control Center.

The center was funded by a grant from the North Carolina Department of Human Resources and the Duke University Department of Pediatrics. As grant recipient, the center functioned as state central poison control and wrote guidelines for various government departments on the safety of chemicals. Staff from the center also provided a permanent display at health fairs and conferences, sent out fliers, and taught poison awareness and prevention courses.

In the 1970s, when the Durham, N.C. area was more agriculturally active, the center received many calls about agricultural poisonings. During the 1970s, there were about 200 calls per month. In 1977, the center handled 1,195 cases involving household, farm, commercial, and industrial products (the most common cause of accidental poisonings). Farmers were most frequently poisoned with insecticides and weed killers causing the majority of problems. The second most common poisonings occurred during household chores, primarily when bleach was mixed with another cleaning agent.

Jay Arena is credited with beginning the first poison control movement in the country. In addition to founding the Poison Control Center, he was a preeminent physician in the field of toxicology and developer of the childproof safety cap. His interest in poison prevention derived in part from the influence of Dr. Wilburt C. Davison, long-time Medical School dean. During the 1930s, the two men treated children suffering form the caustic effects of lye poisoning, common in the 1930s. They started keeping a reference file on other types of poisoning. The reference file eventually led to an inventory of treatments for poisoning and helped to development more than 600 poison control centers across the United States. In the 1950s, Arena led the push for drug companies to develop the childproof safety cap for medicine bottles. Many companies were not interested in changing their product for fear of low sales or reputation of not producing a safe drug. Arena persisted and with support from Duke University and convinced a number of drug companies to begin using child-proof safety caps.

Shirley K. Osterhout, also an assistant professor of pediatrics in the Duke University School of Medicine, taught courses in poisoning and supervised pediatric students at work in the center. Osterhout was especially concerned with packaging and product commercials and labeling information, often directing companies to correct labels which provided misinformed antidotes. During her tenure, she testified before Consumer Products Safety Committee and rallied against many large manufacturers to change packaging from attractive, food-like containers to those that are clearly not like food containers. Osterhout was a member of a variety of pediatric health associations.

The Duke Poison Control Center ceased operation around 1997. Toxicology studies are continued through Duke University's Toxicology Program. The statewide poison control center is now located in Charlotte, N.C.

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Scope and Content

Contains materials pertaining to the clinical and educational activities of the Poison Control Center at Duke University from 1951-1987. Also contains materials created primarily by Shirley K. Osterhout during her long tenure as medical director (1959-ca. 1997) and by Jay Arena, founder, director (1954-1959), and consultant (1959-1979) to the Poison Control Center. Materials range in date from 1951-1987.

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Contents list

Series Quick Links

Correspondence, 1965-1987

Contains primarily correspondence between physicians, patients, the general public, and the Duke Poison Control Center. Shirley K. Osterhout is primarily responsible for the creation and organization of these materials. Materials from most years are divided into Cases, General, Other, Pediatrics, Products, and Plants. The Cases file includes correspondence requesting information and referrals, and follow-ups with other physicians. The General and Other files contain reports, clippings, reviews of literature, and correspondence regarding programs and professional societies, and some meeting minutes from Department of Pediatrics. The Pediatrics file contains Duke Hospital patient discharge summary records and correspondence with physicians (see also Case Reports and Admissions). The Products file contains correspondence with retailers, manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies, and government entities (primarily the Food and Drug Administration). Materials range in date from 1965-1987.

Box 1
1965 June - July
1965 August - December
1966 January - June
2.0 folders
1966 July - December
2.0 folders
3.0 folders
1968 January
2.0 folders
1968 June - 1969
2.0 folders
1969 May - August
2.0 folders
1969 September - 1970 March
2.0 folders
1970 March - August
2.0 folders
1970 September - March 1971

Box 2
1971 March - August
2.0 folders
1971 August - December
2.0 folders
1972 January - March
2.0 folders
1972 June - September
2.0 folders
1972 October - December
2.0 folders
1972 December - April 1973
2.0 folders
1973 March - June
2.0 folders
1973 July - August
2.0 folders
1973 August - November
2.0 folders
1973 November - March 1974
2.0 folders

Box 3
1974 March - June
2.0 folders
1974 June - November
2.0 folders
1974 November - 1975 January
2.0 folders
1975 February - April
2.0 folders
1975 April - June
2.0 folders
1975 July - September
2.0 folders
1975 October - 1976 January
2.0 folders
1976 February - May
2.0 folders
1976 May - August
2.0 folders
1976 August - November
2.0 folders
1976 November - 1977 January

Box 4
1976 November - 1977 January
1977 February - March
1977 April
1977 June - September
2.0 folders
1977 September - December
2.0 folders
1978 January - June
2.0 folders
1978 March - July
2.0 folders
1978 July - August
2.0 folders
1978 September - December
4.0 folders
1979 January - March
1979 March - May
2.0 folders
1979 April - July
2.0 folders

Box 5
1979 March - September
1979 September - 1980 January
2.0 files
1981 May - August
2.0 folders
1981 September - December
2.0 folders
1983 - 1984
1987 January - June
1987 July
1987 August
1987 September
2.0 folders
1987 October
2.0 folders
1987 November - December

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Case Reports and Admissions to Duke Hospital, 1953-1984

Contains Duke hospital patient discharge summary records of individuals who experienced poisoning and sought treatment at the Duke University Medical Center between 1953 and 1979. Chief complaint, symptoms, past history, physical examination, clinical findings, and course of treatment, diagnosis, and disposition are included in these summaries. Summaries also provide commentary on surrounding social circumstances. The summaries are ordered by date, and then grouped alphabetically by type of poison. Materials range in date from 1953 to 1984.

Box 5
Case reports, 1953 - 1965
2.0 folders

Admissions, 1967 - 1979
Box 5
B - C
D - J
K - N

Box 6
O - Pills
Pl - Z,
2.0 folders

Box 6
Medical Admit Notebook, 1974 - 1984
Admissions, circa 1981 - 1985

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Patient Phone Contact Logs, 1987

Contains internal forms used to track requests for information and phone calls to the Duke Poison Control Center. The forms include general information about the patient and poison, but now include an area to record the type of container, whether it was closed or open, and what kind of cautionary label was present.

Box 6
1987 July - October
1987 March - August
2.0 folders

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Gastrointestinal Drugs Advisory Committee, 1980 - 1983

Shirley K. Osterhout was a consultant to the Gastrointestinal Drugs Advisory Committee of the Bureau of Drugs of the Food and Drug Administration. The Committee was charged with reviewing the safety and effectiveness of prescription drugs. Osterhout served as a liaison between the consumer and medical community, representing the consumer’s concerns in matters of gastrointestinal diseases. Types of materials in this series include correspondence, minutes, reports, and memoranda.

Box 6
1980 - 1981
1981 - 1982

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Short Writings and Clippings, 1974 - 1980

Box 6
Phenol and boric acid, research materials and short writings, ca. 1974 - 1975
Antidotes, circa 1987
Quarterly report, 1980
Clippings, 1975 - 1978

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Jay Arena Materials, 1951 - 1976

Contains early materials of the Duke Poison Control Center, as created by its first director, Jay Arena, toxicologist and pediatrician. Also contains some research materials and correspondence concerning the development of the first child safety cap. Arena was in close contact with the staff of the Poison Control Center and was a frequent advisor to Shirley Osterhout. Types of materials include correspondence, short writings, histories and reports, brochures, pamphlets, posters, statistics, and reports. Materials range in date from 1951 - 1976.

Box 6
Jay Arena Writings: "A Survey of Safety Closures..."
Jay Arena Writings: "Safety Closure Caps"
Jay Arena Writings: American Children - Their Heritage of Health
Jay Arena Writings: "Drug Dangers to the Fetus..."
Jay Arena Writings: "The Coroner's Role..."
Jay Arena Writings: "Poisoning in Childhood..."
Jay Arena Writings: "Report from the Duke..."
Safety Closure Caps Correspondence, 1967
Safety Closure Caps Correspondence, 1960-1966
Safety Closure Cap Correspondence, 1959
Safety Closure Cap Correspondence, 1957-1958
Correspondence, 1965
Correspondence, 1966
Correspondence, 1967-1968
Departmental History, 1961
General Instructions for Use of the Center, undated
Yearly Statistics, 1962-1976
Annual Report, November 1961-October 1962
Annual Report, 1976
National Poison Prevention Week, 1964
National Poison Prevention Week Borchures and Posters, 1965-1966
National Poison Prevention Week General Materials, 1965-1966
2.0 folders
National Poison Prevention Week Pamphlets and Posters, 1969
National Poison Prevention Week General Materials, 1969
White House Conference on Children and Youth, 1958-1960

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