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.
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:
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.
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.