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Upstate University Hospital home to new toxicology staff

Ellen Abbott/WRVO

Starting Monday, the emergency room at Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse will have the services of medical toxicologists on a 24-hour basis to help diagnose drug overdoses and poisonings. Toxicologist Dr. Ross Sullivan says toxicologists use a number of methods to evaluate a possible overdose or poisoning.

"It's a combination of lab work, it's a combination of looking at the patient, a combination of other tests that you can do that kind of put it all together," Sullivan said. "It's kind of like a puzzle. Sometimes they are mysteries and we have to take information from all different avenues to find out what people have done, because quite often people can't tell you what happened to them."

The number one cause of an overdose in the United States is acetaminophen, also known as Tylenol. Sullivan says it is something ER doctors see quite often in central New York.

"There are special medicines and antidotes which counteract what Tylenol does, which is actually cause liver failure," Sullivan said. "Knowing the signs and symptoms of this and treating it as soon as possible is very, very important, because as time goes on, your liver is a ticking time bomb. The longer you wait, the less chance you have of having a full recovery."

Sullivan says overdoses can involve anything from too much of an over-the-counter drug, like Tylenol, to drug interactions in older people who are taking several prescriptions. Toxicologists are also up to date on the latest designer drugs that often bring patients to the emergency room.

He also says complex drug interactions have become more common in the ER.

"As we see society get older, and we see people on more medications, there are a large number of drug interactions; so the more numbers of medicines people are on, the higher chance these drugs interact and cause problems for patients," Sullivan said. "And these are very complex problems."

The consultation service begins Monday for emergency cases in the ER. Starting Tuesday, toxicologists at Upstate will also begin offering an outpatient clinic on weekdays, for follow up visits or patients who need an evaluation for a potential overdose.