Sunday, October 11, 2015

Rotation 4: Alphabet Soup

Posted by Rebecca Racz at Sunday, October 11, 2015

ORP, OCC, DMEPA, OGD.  On my first day, while I was waiting to meet my preceptor, a man struck up a conversation with me (apparently I looked lost).  He asked me where I worked, and I spelled it out, Office of Regulatory Policy.  He nodded with recognition: "Oh, ORP! I'm from OSE!"  I guess I looked confused, because he started explaining some of the abbreviations before he had to run to a meeting.  Five weeks later, I still see and hear abbreviations daily that I need to look up.

Working in ORP was completely different from what I expected, but I still absolutely loved it.  I was surprised to learn (although it is somewhat implied in the name) that the office is filled with lawyers. Interacting with lawyers in a healthcare setting is very different from working with other healthcare professionals.  Some of my office's main responsibilities included participating in the development of rules and regulations and responding to citizen petitions (documents individuals, groups, and companies can write to FDA to try to persuade them to change something, such as remove a drug from the market, issue a guidance or rule, or make labeling changes).  In both of these cases, I appreciated having different disciplines working on these projects together.  As a healthcare professional, advice and knowledge I felt was obvious was not always clear to others, and vice versa.  Having multiple experts from a variety of areas allowed for the clearest documents to be released to the general public.

FDA was not all work and no play, however.  I attended nearly daily meetings to learn about all the different departments and met individually with pharmacists from several departments.  I also went on several field trips, including the Bureau of Prisons, American Pharmacists Association, United States Pharmacopeia, and the Pentagon.  Pharmacists are working all over the world in places you would never expect to find them, and hearing about the variety of opportunities available for those looking for a non-traditional path was informative - many jobs I had never considered, or even heard of before!

Overall, this was a fantastic rotation that went by too fast.  I loved the idea that I was affecting pharmacy at a national level by assisting with the creation of various policies.  I have always wanted to effect change on a grander scale than one patient, one pharmacy, or one hospital, and at FDA I was able to accomplish that.  I look forward to hopefully returning one day, but until then, onwards to pediatrics!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Rotation 4- Poison Control-

Posted by E. Caliman at Friday, October 09, 2015

My fourth rotation was also at the Poison Control Center, so I had the same experience as Emily in the post below. I was also surprised that knowing the substance the patient took wasn't particularly critical to treating the patient; many times, you just treat the symptoms as they show up. It still made it interesting to guess the substance when we went over cases. I also learned that not every toxin has an antidote, which leads to treating the patient supportively.

Several of the cases involved acetaminophen (Tylenol) in some form, which is to be expected: it's the most common toxin called into poison control centers and the most common cause of liver failure. Alcohol was also very common, as well as a mixture of illicit substances. On the other hand, we got to handle uncommon cases, such as rattlesnake bites (the only rattlesnake in Michigan is the Massasauga), insulin, and fuzzy caterpillars (not poisonous, but the "fuzz" is actually many tiny spines, so it's like a porcupine). It was interesting to see how certain substances were more common to certain age groups. Another interesting point was that the patient may not be telling you the truth when they tell you what they took. Sometimes, what they say they took and what they actually took look completely different.

This rotation highlighted several things we discussed in the American Pharmacist Association's Generation Rx committee about securing your medications. Even though the focus of the committee is young adults getting into their parents or grandparent's medication cabinets, young children also can get access to them if they're not locked, get past child-resistant caps, and consume medications in spite of the taste. One of the cases I consulted for while on call involved a kid about 2 years old who took some of his parent's medications when they were briefly left unattended. Another problem highlighted was that of household products. Detergent pods are very colorful and appealing to children and their contents are under pressure. If a child bites one, some of the liquid detergent can spray to the back of the throat where it can be swallowed, or worse, inhaled. Chemicals found in the garage are also a problem. Products such as antifreeze and brake fluid have a sweet taste, but can cause renal failure, which means the patient may be put on hemodialysis for life.

Overall, this was a great rotation and I'm considering further studies in toxicology. If nothing else, I can expand my knowledge base to better help my patients.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Rotation 4: The Dose Makes the Poison

Posted by Emily at Friday, October 02, 2015



Despite the clinical nature of this rotation, my experience at the Michigan Poison Center certainly fit its “non-traditional” billing.  Full disclosure: I have been very interested in toxicology since shadowing at this poison center the summer after P1 year (and two more times as a P2), and thus this was the rotation I was most looking forward to.  It definitely lived up to my expectations and has solidified my plan to pursue a clinical toxicology fellowship following completion a PGY1 residency.  Please bear with me while I gush about this rotation.

As I mentioned, this rotation is considered non-traditional as it is geared towards emergency medicine medical residents (aka licensed physicians who have a few years of practice under their belts), although there were a handful of pharmacy residents and medical students on rotation as well.  In total, there were about 25 rotators, so you can imagine that we did not all physically visit and consult on every toxicology patient that passed through the Detroit Medical Center.  Instead, we were divided into four teams who were assigned one day a week to be “on-call”, with the following day designated for team “call backs”.  Additionally, each team was assigned one weekend to be on-call.  This was confusing to me initially because I’m used to traditional rounding which generally occurs at the same time every day with more or less the same group of people.  Consult services, like toxicology, are more flexible and can see patients at any time, day or night.  A typical day at the poison control center looked something like this:

0730-0900 – consults or call backs
On the days my team was on-call, our designated team leader would call the poison center at 0600 to see if there were any patients within the Detroit Medical Center network of hospitals who required a toxicology consultation.  Some days there weren’t any patients, other days there were one or two.  It was up to the team to decide who would see the patient.  I consulted every patient that was available to me to consult, though I always teamed up with the physicians in my group who performed a physical exam, asked follow-up questions of the patient and the patient’s nurses to gain a more complete toxicologic history, and wrote consultation notes for the medical record.

On call-back days, we were required to log into the Toxicall system which is the database that tracks all of the calls that come in through the poison center hotline each day.  From here we returned calls to health care providers who may have consulted the poison center the night before for recommendations regarding a toxic exposure.  As rotators, it was our job to gather as much pertinent information as possible about the patient’s history, as well as their treatment course and most recent labs and vitals.  From there we would consult with the toxicology fellow or attending toxicologists about what additional recommendations for care needed to be made, and then write a SOAP note to log our encounter and recommendations in Toxicall.

0900-1100 – case review
Each morning, the on-call and call back teams would present the cases they had seen.  These were case presentations with a twist, however.  Whenever possible, the toxic substance was withheld so that we could try to guess what it was based on the patient’s presentation, vital signs, and lab findings.  Certain classes of medications have specific toxidromes that can help clinicians narrow down the possible ingestant(s).  For example, sympathomimetics (like bath salts, amphetamines, and cocaine) cause increased blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, and temperature, pupil dilation, CNS activation, sweating, and GI activation like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.  Conversely, sedative-hypnotics and opioids cause decreased blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, and CNS depression.  Patients rarely present with a textbook perfect toxidrome, especially if they ingested more than one substance (or even if they’re withdrawing from one substance while overdosing on another).  Toxicology requires a lot of problem-solving and detective work, which made cases my favorite part of the day.  It was just piecing together puzzles all morning!

Of course, it was frustrating when the poison was never elucidated because the patient was intubated and unable to tell us what they took.  I was surprised at how often it didn’t matter what the actual toxic ingestion was.  The toxicologists made treatment recommendations based on the patient’s symptoms, not necessarily based on what the patient claimed to have taken.

Here are some examples of the many and varied toxic ingestions I saw during this rotation: synthetic cannabinoids, lithium, heroin, glipizide, bupropion, acetaminophen, Coricidin, Listerine, antifreeze, quetiapine and cocaine, Dust-Off, a caterpillar, and some chemical called 3FPM that the patient ordered online.  We were also consulted about a Massasauga rattlesnake bite!

1100-1200 – lunch

1200-1400 – lectures, journal club, topic presentations, field trips
The afternoons were devoted to lectures on a wide variety of toxicology topics which were given by the handful of toxicologist attendings who worked at the poison center.  We reviewed everything from acid-base chemistry and acetaminophen toxicity to poisonous mushrooms and venomous spiders.  Each rotator was also required to present a journal club and a topic presentation.  My presentations were on colchicine toxicity and castor bean/ricin poisoning.

We had two field trips during the rotation: one to the Detroit Zoo to learn about venomous snakes, and one to the Michigan State University botanical gardens to learn about poisonous plants.

castor beans from the botanical gardens
autumn crocus, the plant from which colchicine is derived, at the botanical gardens
1400-1600 – review materials, work on projects from home
My major assignment for the rotation was to help develop a protocol for the management of zinc/aluminum phosphide poisoning.  Aluminum phosphide is a rodenticide that’s especially prevalent in agriculture southern Asian nations like India, but can easily be obtained in the US via the internet.  When aluminum phosphide comes in contact with water, it releases phosphine gas which is super toxic because it disrupts mitochondrial function.  When ingested, stomach acid causes an even greater release of phosphine gas.  Not surprisingly, the mortality rate from aluminum phosphide ingestion is very high, and unfortunately there isn’t an antidote.  In addition to being incredibly toxic to the individual who ingested the aluminum phosphide, the patient can off-gas phosphine even post-mortem which puts the healthcare providers caring for these patients at risk.  These patients essentially become HAZMAT problems.  It’s a pretty fascinating issue.  Here’s a link to a news article about a recent case of aluminum phosphide ingestion in New Mexico: http://www.koat.com/news/man-overdoses-vomit-contaminates-taos-hospital/34890148

And now, dear readers, please allow me to list the reasons why I love toxicology and thus loved this rotation:
  • Toxicology is a broad specialty because the dose makes the poison, which means that basically anything can be toxic in the right quantities.  This means toxicologists have to be well versed in pharmacology and biochemistry, because toxic ingestions can be household items just as easily as they can be medication related.
  • Toxicology is all about SOLVING PUZZLES.  I love this so much.
  • Toxic ingestions often have a social component to them that I find very interesting.  For example, lead poisoning is more prevalent in low-income areas because the houses are often older and thus more likely to have been painted with lead paint.  Or parents may be reluctant to admit that their child could have accessed their prescription (or not prescription) medications out of fear that Child Protective Services will be contacted.  These complicated situations add a whole new layer of challenge to the field.
  • I am a biologist at heart, and toxicology caters to this because beyond drugs, toxicologists are concerned with poisonous plants and animals too!
  • In my opinion, toxicology offers pharmacist a good balance of activities including clinical care, drug information, research, teaching, and administrative duties. 
  • Toxicology offers tons of variety because there are always new poisons (see: Tide Pods) and drugs of abuse trends are always changing.  There is always something new to learn.
  • Finally, I really love emergency medicine docs.  All of the toxicologists and EM residents who I worked with this month had the most delightfully dry senses of humor on top of being super smart.  It made me excited to come in to rotation every day. 
Long story long, this non-traditional rotation in poison control definitely met my expectations!  I have been working on narrowing down residency options based on what programs also offer toxicology fellowships or at the very least are associated with poison centers and have PGY1 rotations in toxicology.