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KNOXVILLE — University of Tennessee agricultural extension agents are teaming with local pharmacists to help prevent accidental poisonings in seven Tennessee counties.

Dr. Bobbi Clarke, a UT agricultural extension specialist in rural health education, said UT’s Center for Community-Based Health Initiatives is educating rural families about the dangers of potentially lethal household substances.

The project also seeks to tell them about National Poison Prevention Week, March 19-25, and the Southern Poison Center’s 24-hour poison-information hotline at 1-800-288-9999, she said.

“We’re targeting parents, trying to increase their awareness of just how easily a child can get poisoned,” Clarke said. “We’re also trying to promote the poison center’s 800 emergency number.”

The partnership between the UT Agricultural Extension Service and the UT College of Pharmacy has teamed extension agents with pharmacists in Greene, Anderson, Roane, Rutherford, Carroll, Coffee and Dyer counties.

“The program is neat because it pairs two important community-based individuals who are interested in health,” said Dr. Peter Chyka, who heads the Southern Poison Center. “Pharmacists and extension agents are often among the most trusted and respected people in a community.”

Chyka said the center served 30,689 people in 1999. There were nine poison-related deaths during that period in the area served by the center. The usual victims are children under six and the typical poison is a prescribed medication, he said.

Clarke said posters, publications and an exhibit on poison safety will be available all year.

The poison education drive is the second educational project the program has undertaken. Last fall, the partnership promoted flu shots. Agricultural extension agents referred rural residents of the seven counties to pharmacists for flu shots and other inoculations, Clarke said.

“Early data indicate that we had about 10,000 additional flu shots given in the pilot counties,” she said. Secondary benefits include reducing health-care costs by limiting the need for emergency medical care.

“We’re finding that pharmacists are eager to participate,” said Dr. Dick Gourley, dean of the College of Pharmacy. “The U.S. Department of Agriculture has decided that this model is so viable they want to take it to nine other states.”

Gourley said the program is the nation’s first to link the network of agricultural extension agents with pharmacists and will soon expand to 30 Tennessee counties.