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Drug-Related Poisonings Land Many in ER

Emergency Departments Treat an Estimated 700,000 Yearly for Drug Poisonings, Many of Them Children
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Feb. 28, 2011 -- Drug-related poisonings send hundreds of thousands of people to emergency rooms every year in the United States, including many people who have overdosed on prescription medications, a new study indicates.

The study also found that children aged 5 and younger had a higher rate of emergency department visits for unintentional drug-related poisonings than all other age groups.

“Despite the fact that successful prevention strategies targeted at young children have helped to decrease the occurrence of drug-related poisonings in this population, the number of unintentional poisonings among this age group is still too high,” Gary Smith, MD, DrPH, of Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, says in a statement.

The study, he says, reinforces the importance of stepping up efforts to prevent unintentional drug exposures among young children.

The study appears in the March issue of the American Journal of Emergency Medicine.

ER Visits, Costs Mount

Researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Policy of the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital looked at emergency room visits for drug-related poisonings in 2007.

That year, researchers say an estimated 700,000 emergency department visits were for drug-related poisonings. That’s an average of 1,900 people per day. These visits cost nearly $1.4 billion a year, or about $3.8 million per day in emergency department charges.

“The magnitude of these findings is staggering,” Smith says. “The number and cost of drug-related poisonings identified in this study indicate a public health emergency that requires a decisive and coordinated response at national, state, and local levels.”

Researchers say drug-related poisonings have been on the rise over the past decade and that in many states, drug-related deaths have surpassed motor vehicle fatalities.

Antidepressants and Tranquilizers Big Part of Problem

Other key findings of the study:

  • Antidepressants and tranquilizers account for 24% of the drug-related poisonings treated in emergency rooms.
  • Pain and fever control medicines were responsible for 23% of the emergency department visits for drug-related poisonings.
  • Among cases involving antidepressants and tranquilizers, 52% were suicidal poisonings, and 30% were unintentional.
  • 41% of poisonings by pain and fever control medicines were suicidal, and 40% unintentional.

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