Mr. Yuk Line Offers Help For Opioid Addictions

Dec 1, 2016

Dr. William Robertson, who helped pioneer the idea of poison centers, poses for a photo with the "Mr. Yuk" symbol on Monday, Nov. 20, 2006.
Credit Ted S. Warren / AP

As the opioid epidemic continues, an unlikely service is offering support to those battling addiction: the Pittsburgh Poison Center.

Medical Director Michael Lynch said center’s new effort to combat opioid overdoses and addiction aligns with its mission to reduce poisonings through treatment advice, advocacy and education.

Anyone in western Pennsylvania battling opioids, or their loved ones, can call the Mr. Yuk line, or 1-800-222-1222, for help.

“They’ll be connected to a specialist who is able to talk to them about potential immediate medical implications of either overdose toxicity or withdrawal and provide them with resources to facilitate follow up and identification of treatment programs,” Lynch said.

The call center has always provided help for people who have overdosed, but helping individuals find long-term treatment help is a service made available just in the last month.

The Pittsburgh center fields calls from 44 counties. Allegheny County callers are referred to a Department of Human Services case manager for help. For others who live in another county served by the center, an employee will follow up a few days later to find out if that person has found help.

Lynch said opioid users often don't know where to turn to get treatment, which is what makes this new service so valuable.

About a dozen calls for help have come in during the first month, Lynch said.

“The (opioid) epidemic, as it currently is, demands unusual, novel and creative approaches to address it from a number of different fronts and we recognize we are just one piece of the puzzle,” Lynch said. “But we couldn’t not do something.”

As the opioid epidemic has grown, not all physicians are familiar with treating patients in withdrawal or recovery, Lynch said, so the Pittsburgh Poison Center is also prepared to help them. The call center is not able to provide opioid replacement therapy such as Methadone, but can offer guidance on other drugs that can help.

“We have written it out to make it very clear and in a prescription format and we can actually fax that to a physician,” Lynch said. “All they would have to do is sign it, check off the boxes of the medications they would want to provide or not check off ones that might be inappropriate for a specific patient and it’s done.”

If the effort proves successful, Lynch hopes other regions will offer similar programs.