• Over a one-month period all telephone calls from the public (n=3828) to a regional poison center were analyzed. The proportion of early calls (within ten minutes of exposure) decreased with age. Late calls (>30 minutes) were significantly associated with higher hospital referral rates when compared with earlier calls in children younger than 5 years (4.6% vs 1.8%) and adults (33% vs 15%). Ipecac was available in 59% of the homes of callers with children younger than 5 years. Hospital referrals were significantly less common among children who had ipecac at home (1%) compared with children who did not (3%). While the availabilty of ipecac was similar among callers and a matched sample of households who previously called the poison center (58%), ipecac was much less frequently available (24%) among households whose members had not previously called the center. These data infer that educating the public to call the poison center promptly may result in reduction of hospital referrals. Poison education efforts should be targeted to populations with low ipecac availability and low utilization of the poison center.