America’s poison control centers are increasingly fielding calls on cases of deliberate or accidental poisonings that end in disability or death, a new report finds.

Researchers at the University of Virginia Health System reviewed more than 33.7 million poison exposures reported to the 55 poison centers in the United States between 2007 and the end of 2021. 

Over that time, the number of calls involving “intentional exposures” to poisonous drugs that resulted in a death more than tripled (a 233.9% rise).

Intentional exposures “include cases such as suicide attempts, use of illegal drugs and incorrect use of medications for reasons other than their intended purpose, such as to get high,” UVA Health explained in a news release.

Cases of accidental, unintentional exposures to poisons have also gotten more severe, the study found.

The number of unintentional exposures that ended up with the patient being disabled or maimed rose by 37.4% between 2007 and 2021, and the number resulting in death rose by 65.3%, according to a team led by Dr. Christopher Holstege. He directs UVA Health’s Blue Ridge Poison Center.

Cases of unintentional exposures included people misusing medicines by accident (for example, taking the wrong dose), being exposed to toxins at the workplace, and food poisonings, bites and stings.

Case severity is also rising among children, the new report found.

Intentional exposures that resulted in a child’s death or severe harm rose by almost 77% between 2007 and 2021, even though total case numbers for that category have fallen by a third.

As for unintentional exposures, fatal cases involving children almost tripled (a 190% rise) and pediatric cases leading to great harm rose by almost 123%, Holstege’s group found.

“As a society, we should be concerned at these trends pertaining to children,” Holstege said. “We need to collaboratively strategize on better delineating the root causes for such severe cases of pediatric poisonings, especially in the realms of mental health and substance use and misuse.”

The severity of cases appeared to climb progressively as time went on, the authors noted.

More than 8 million calls were made to U.S. poison centers over the study period for cases involving unintended exposures among adults, as well as another 3.9 million cases involving intentional exposures.

Over 18.7 million calls involving unintentional exposures by kids, and more than 1.6 million intentional exposures, were also logged, the team found.

The findings were published recently in the journal Clinical Toxicology.

None of the trends that the researchers uncovered surprised Holstege.

“In fact, what prompted us to look at the data on a national level is the increased severity of cases we are seeing at UVA Health’s Blue Ridge Poison Center,” said Holstege, who is also chief of medical toxicology at UVA’s School of Medicine.

“The cause for this trend is multifactorial: We have experienced a growing mental health crisis in the nation’s youth, and we are finding an increasing number of dangerous novel psychoactive substances such as synthetic opioids and designer benzodiazepines entering society,” Holstege said.

More information

The Health Resources & Services Administration has more info on what to do if you find someone who may have been poisoned.

SOURCE: UVA Health, news release, June 5, 2024

Source: HealthDay

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