Poisoning is still a big issue in Australia and can impact different age groups in different ways, new research has found. The most recent figures show there were more than 170,000 calls to Poison Information Centres in 2015 from people who needed assistance with poisonings. Calls were more likely to be from a family member or a person directly involved with the poisoning.
Two thirds of cases are unintentional, a sixth are caused by medical error, while one tenth are the result of deliberate self-poisoning. The research, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, found it was adolescents most likely to self-poison and be referred to hospital.
The 170,469 calls related to 164,363 poison exposure events. Of those, 64.4 per cent were unintentional, 18.1 per cent were due to medication error and 10.7 per cent were deliberate self-poisoning. Researchers from the State Poisons Information Centres (PICs), used data from call records from four centres to analyse these poisoning exposures and the substances involved.
“Most exposures were of 20-74-year-old adults (40.1 per cent) or one-four year-old toddlers (36 per cent),” lead author Alana Huynh wrote. “The most common substances involved in exposures overall were household cleaners (10.2 per cent) and paracetamol-containing analgesics (7.3 per cent).”
Toddlers and infants were most likely to be exposed to household cleaning substances and personal care items. Meanwhile, deliberate self-poisoning was most frequent in adolescents, with people commonly using over-the-counter medications such as paracetamol and NSAIDs. Researchers believe reducing the sale of these agents to adolescents could be useful in preventing poisoning.
“High rates of poisoning with antidepressants and antipsychotics indicate that prescribing these agents should be restricted to those most likely to benefit, and their toxicity profile should be considered when prescribing them for adolescents at higher risk of deliberate self-poisoning,” Huynh noted.
Adults aged between 20-74 were involved an array of poisonings from drugs including psychotropic pharmaceuticals (17.8 per cent) and painkillers (15.1 per cent).
“Exposures in adults over 74 were typically medication errors involving cardiovascular (23.6 per cent), anticoagulant (4.6 per cent) or antidiabetic (4.1 per cent) medications,” Huynh said.
The authors also found the scheduling of medications impacted the likelihood of them being involved in poisonings, with scheduled medications least often implicated in unintentional and deliberate self-poisoning in all age groups. This means stringent criteria for prescribing, storage and dispensing is effective in reducing access to medication access and poisoning.
If you think you’ve been poisoned, seek medical help as soon as possible or contact the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26.