Data from a nationally representative sample of household interviews were analyzed to examine public preparedness for childhood poisoning episodes. Eighty-eight percent (61% to 77% in nonwhite groups) of respondents from households with children younger than 10 years had heard of poison control centers and 70% (50% to 57% in nonwhites) stated that they had the telephone number of such a center. In contrast only 25% stated they had syrup of ipecac in their home. Among blacks and Hispanics this proportion was 9%. To explore possible reasons for this we telephoned a sample of 65 physicians listed in the greater Washington, DC, telephone directory as providers of care for infants and children. Of the 45 (69%) who agreed to be interviewed, 73% informed their patients about poison control centers and 53% provided the appropriate telephone number. Although 78% believed parents should have ipecac in the house, only three (7%) of 45 actually dispensed ipecac to parents. We conclude that ipecac is not widely available in the homes of American children. By regularly dispensing it in the course of pediatric care, physicians could largely remedy this deficiency.