Unintentional poisoning from prescription drugs

Published 8:45 pm Friday, March 26, 2010

Each year, inadvertent poisoning results in more than 700,000 emergency room visits, 120,000 hospitalizations and a growing number of fatalities, said Southwest Health District Health Director Jacqueline Grant.

“The same prescription drugs that help control or prevent disease or reduce pain when used correctly can be harmful—or even lethal—if used incorrectly,” Grant said. “Among those most at risk of such accidental poisonings are children less than 5 years of age and older adults.”

Deaths from unintentional poisoning (giving or taking a drug without meaning to cause harm) are on the rise in the United States, said the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Death rates associated with such poisoning jumped by 63 percent from 1999 to 2004, the CDC reports.

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“This is a serious and often unrecognized problem,” Grant said. “By making people aware of the danger, we hope to reduce the number of accidental poisonings.”

Roughly 98,000 emergency room visits each year involve unintentional poisoning of children less than 5 years old.

“Very small children put things in their mouths, and most of these poisonings are the result of toddlers finding, eating or drinking medications on their own,” Grant said.

Adverse drug events are also responsible for around 177,000 emergency room visits a year among adults aged 65 and older, states the CDC.

Older adults are approximately seven times more likely than others to be hospitalized from accidental poisoning, according to the CDC. The majority of such cases involve a handful of drugs that are known to need close monitoring to prevent problems. Some of the common drugs that should be monitored carefully are diabetes medication, blood thinners, heart medicine and drugs to control seizures.

However, those most likely to die from inadvertent poisoning are middle-aged adults, Grant said.

“Unintentional overdoses of narcotic pain medications such as methadone, oxycodone and hydrocodone claim more lives of adults aged 40 through 49 than cocaine and heroin,” she said.

“Accidental poisoning from medication is preventable,” Grant stressed. “It is important for patients to learn how to properly take, monitor and store prescription drugs.”

Tips to prevent inadvertent poisoning include:

 Follow directions on labels when you give or take medicines. Some medicines cannot be taken safely with other medications or with alcohol;

 When taking more than one prescription medication at a time, check with your doctor to avoid drug interaction;

 Keep medicines in their original bottles or containers;

 Never share or sell your prescription drugs to others, including family members;

 Keep all pain medications, such as methadone, hydrocodone and oxycodone, in a safe place only reachable by people for whom use is prescribed;

 Monitor the use of medicines for children and teenagers, secure child-proof caps and promptly put away pediatric medicines;

 Follow federal guidelines for disposal of unused, unneeded or expired prescription drugs;

 Post or program phones with the toll-free Georgia Poison Control number, 1-800-222-1222, which operates year-round, 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week.