Injury, death by poison happens all too many times

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

They say you are what you eat, and that's true to one extent or another.

Unfortunately, for 87 people every day in the United States, what they are is dead as a result of poison they have eaten or otherwise ingested.

We don't want to be alarmist and most of us are generally safe for most of the time, but it pays to be careful concerning ourselves and our children, when it comes to the potential for being poisoned. That's the point of National Poison Prevention Week, March 17-23.

It's especially true as we begin to move outdoors following the long cold winter, into an environment that includes new hazards such as farm, lawn, garden and automotive chemicals and fluids.

It's also true year-around, as we are exposed to the possibility of medication overdoses or accidental ingestion.

Poisoning is not something to be taken lightly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unintentional poisoning was second only to motor vehicle crashes as a cause of unintentional injury death for all ages in 2009, according to the CDC. Among people 25-64 years old, unintentional poisoning caused more deaths than motor vehicle crashes.

In 2009, 28,754 (91 percent) of all unintentional poisoning deaths were caused by drugs, most commonly painkillers such as methadone, hydrocodone and oxycodone, followed by cocaine and heroin.

For those treated in emergency departments for nonfatal poisonings involving nonmedical use of prescription or over-the-counter drugs in 2009, opioid pain medications and benzodiazepines (such as Valium) were involved most frequently. Nonmedical use includes misuse, abuse or otherwise not taking a drug as prescribed.

Among children, emergency department visits, excluding misuse or abuse, are twice as common as poisoning from other household products such as cleaning solutions and personal care products.

It all adds up; in 2005, poisonings led to $33.4 billion in medical and productivity costs.

Children younger than 15 years of age are less likely to die from unintentional poisoning, because they generally abuse drugs less than older people.

The news isn't so good for others when it comes to poisoning:

* Men are nearly twice as likely as women to die.

* American Indians/Alaska Natives had the highest death rate, followed by whites and then blacks.

* The highest mortality rates were among people 45-49 years of age.

The Nebraska Regional Poison Center notes that abuse of prescription medications is the fastest growing drug problem in the United States, and poisonings from unintentional drug overdoses of prescription medications are the leading cause of unintentional home injury deaths for those ages 15-59.

They urge people to:

* Understand what each medication is for and keep a current list.

* Read, understand and follow label instructions.

* Talk to grandparents about what is in their medication cabinet, and keep it secure.

* Take only your own subscriptions and dispose of old or unused medications properly.

Keep the poison control center number's handy: (800) 222-1222.

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