Opioids in spotlight, but there's danger lurking in your home

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Deaths resulting from overdoses from opioids and other drugs are the leading cause of poisoning fatalities in the U.S., and deserve the attention they have been receiving.

The death of a New Orleans couple in an AirBNB in Mexico put the spotlight on another deadly poison — carbon monoxide.

Edward Winders, who served on the board of the National Salvation Army, and his wife, Barbara Moller, who founded Paper to Pearls, an organization that helped Ugandan refugees earn a living by making jewelry, died last month because of a malfunctioning heating system in their rental in San Miguel de Allende.

It’s of special concern to Nebraskans, who live in the state that ranks fifth in the nation in the number of deaths from CO poisoning, behind Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and North Dakota.

Nebraska’s death rate from carbon monoxide poisoning is “only” .309 per 100,000 population, but one is too many.

The five deadliest states share a couple of characteristics, high altitudes — 1,900 or higher mean elevation — and northern latitudes with resulting lower temperatures.

And while faulty heating systems do account for more than a third of CO accidents, the main source of non-fire-related CO poisoning in the U.S. are engine-driven tools such as generators and snow blowers. Only 4 percent of all CO poisonings can be blamed on gas ranges or ovens.

According to a report from Safewise.com, the United States averages 439 deaths per in accidental, non-fire-related CO poisoning, a rate that declined from 199 to 2014.

Besides more than 400 deaths each year, more than 20,000 are sent to emergency rooms and 4,000 hospitalized by CO poisoning.

Poison control centers receive an average of 680 calls a year about CO poisoning, and fire departments responded to an average of 72,000 CO poisoning incidents each year.

The National Safety Council offers these tips for carbon monoxide poisoning:

— Have your heating system, water heater and any other gas or coal-burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year

— Do not use portable flameless chemical heaters indoors

— Never use a generator inside your home, basement or garage or less than 20 feet from any window, door or vent; fatal levels of carbon monoxide can be produced in just minutes

— Have your chimney checked and cleaned every year, and make sure your fireplace damper is open before lighting a fire and well after the fire is extinguished

— Make sure your gas appliances are vented properly

— Never use a gas oven for heating your home

— Never let a car idle in the garage

— Know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning

The CPSC says never ignore a carbon monoxide alarm, and do not try to find the source of the gas. Instead, follow these steps:

— Immediately move outside to fresh air

— Call emergency services, fire department or 911

— Do a head count to check that all persons are accounted for

— Do not re-enter the premises until emergency responders have given you permission to do so

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