Study Finds Drug-Related Poisoning Causes Nearly 700,000 ER Visits a Year

As new visits for drug-related poisoning in the United States continue to rise, the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) and the American Association of Poison Control Centers are raising awareness about the dangers of drug poisoning as part of Poison Prevention Week (March 20-26). In addition, ACEP sent a letter to members of Congress urging them to continue allocating more than $29 million in funding for the 57 poison control centers that serve the nation 24 hours per day, year-round.

"People are abusing prescription drugs and over-the counter drugs, and it's a serious and growing problem," said Dr. Sandra Schneider, ACEP president. "Very young children had the highest rate of unintentional drug poisoning, which is a wake-up call for parents to make sure their medicines are out of reach."

Drug-related poisoning deaths are second only to motor vehicle crashes among the leading causes of injury death, according to the study, which was published in The American Journal of Emergency Medicine.

"Emergency physicians and poison centers are natural partners in reducing the tragic toll of poisoning in the United States," said Dr. Richard Dart, president of the American Association of Poison Control Centers. "Nearly 75 percent of all poison exposures treated by poison centers can be handled at home. Poison center save over $7 for every $1 spent in state and federal funding. We are happy to partner with ACEP to increase outreach on this very pressing public health issue."

Facts about Drug Poisoning:

  • An estimated 699,123 U.S. emergency department visits for drug-related poisoning occurred in 2007, according to ACEP study.
  • Nearly 28,000 unintentional drug-related poisoning deaths in the United States in 2007.
  • Infants to children 5-years old have the highest rate of unintentional poisoning.
  • Antidepressants and painkillers were responsible for 43 percent of all drug-related poisoning.
  • The estimated emergency department charges for drug-related poisonings were $1.4 billion.

How to Prevent Unintentional Drug Poisonings:

  • Keep all drugs out of the reach of young children. Lock medicine cabinets and properly dispose of old medications.
  • Lock any cabinets that contain alcohol or make sure any alcohol beverages are in an area where only a legal adult can access it.
  • Follow directions on the label when taking medications. Make sure to read all warning signs listed.
  • Never share or sell prescription drugs.
  • Keep all pain medication in a place where they can only be accessed only by someone who takes them or gives them.
  • Put the poison control number, 1-800-222-1222 near every home telephone and save it in your cell phone. The line is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  • Avoid taking medicine in front of young children because they mimic adults.
  • Never leave children alone with household products or drugs.
  • Do not call medicine candy.
  • Do not let guests leave drugs where children can find them, such as a pillbox, purse, coat pocket, or backpack.

"We all need to work together, take responsibility, and use common sense to protect people from drug poisoning," Schneider said. "We see too many people affected by this in our emergency departments. With all of the information and warnings available to the public, that should not be the case."

For more information on drug-related poisoning, go to www.EmergencyCareForYou.org and www.aapcc.org.

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