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Poison Prevention

The Epidemic
Poisonings include the unintentional overdose or misuse of over-the-counter, prescription and illicit drugs. Poisonings also can involve unintentional exposure to household chemicals and other substances. With an 80 percent increase from 2001 to 2006, poisonings are one of the fastest-rising causes of unintentional death in the United States. 

Unintentional Drug Overdoses

While most people think of poisonings as a childhood issue, adults are overwhelmingly the source of the recent increase in poisoning deaths. Most fatal poisonings result from unintentional drug overdoses.

Drug overdoses have surpassed falls to become the nation’s second-leading cause of unintentional death, after motor vehicle crashes. Drug overdose rates have increased five-fold since 1990. Unintentional drug overdoses are often related to opioid analgesics, such as oxycodone, methadone, hydrocodone, fentanyl and buprenorphine, which are initially prescribed to treat chronic pain.  

Drug overdose rates have increased among males and females. In 2006, there were 17,740 drug overdose deaths among males and 8,660 among females. While males are more likely to die from a drug overdose, female rates have nearly tripled since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Drug overdose prevention tips for adults and children:

  • Always follow the recommended dosage prescribed by your doctor.
  • Don’t share medications.
  • Use child-resistant caps to protect children.
  • Dispose of any unused or expired medications. 

Call to Educate

A survey conducted in fall 2007 by the National Safety Council, revealed most Americans (81 percent) still believe children are at the greatest risk for unintentional poisonings. Less than 4 percent said adults, though data shows less than one percent of fatal poisoning deaths in 2004 affected children (ages 0-5) and more than 96 percent involved adults (19 and older).

The need for public education is clear. When asked to rank causes of poisonings in the Council’s survey, 53 percent said household chemicals were most commonly associated with fatal poisonings, while just 34 percent named drugs and medicine.  

Poisonings and Children

While children rarely die today from unintentional poisonings, non-fatal poisonings remain a childhood concern. An estimated 40,000 children under the age of 4 are injured by unintentional poisonings every year.

This is testament to the success of national awareness efforts, such as poison prevention campaigns and child-resistant packaging.


For poisonings that can be safely handled at home, call the national poison control center number at 1-800-222-1222.

For all other emergencies call 9-1-1 immediately.


The Effects of Drug Overdoses on Workplace Safety reprinted from Safety+Health magazine.





The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy
 released a new national strategy to combat deaths related to unintentional drug overdoses, as well as other related issues.

Issue Brief: Unintentional Drug Poisoning in the United States from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Lock Up Household Poisons Requirements under the Poison Prevention Packaging Act from the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission.

National Pesticide Information Center

National Poison Prevention Week Council

Pesticides and Child Safety

Prescription Drugs: Killing More Than Pain Webcast

Prevention of Prescription Drug Abuse from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

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