Not all poisons come with a skull and crossbones to warn you of danger.
Did you know that poisoning is the #1 cause of injury-related death in the U.S.? While the majority of unintentional poisoning deaths in the United States are attributable to misuse and abuse of drugs, environmental substances, such as carbon monoxide and pesticides, also contribute to the poisoning illnesses and deaths occurring in the United States each year. Carbon monoxide causes the most non-drug poisoning deaths (approximately 524 per year), especially among people over 65 years old and males. The majority of pesticide poisoning exposures are unintentional and occur in children under 6 years old or in adults over 20 years old.
A poison is a substance that can cause illness, injury, or death. Poisons can be swallowed, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin. Some substances are toxic in small doses, but other usually harmless substances can be poisonous if encountered in large enough quantities.
Childhood poison exposures often occur as a result of exploratory behavior. In these cases, the amounts ingested are usually small and the health effects minimal. However, exposures to some medicines and household chemicals even in small amounts can result in serious illness or death.
Adult poisonings, on the other hand, are usually drug-related and result from:
- Overdoses of illegal drugs and legal drugs taken for nonmedical reasons
- Poisoning from legal drugs taken in error or at the wrong dose
- Unanticipated effects from prescription drugs for medical or non-medical reasons
Overall, the majority of unintentional poisoning deaths in the United States are attributable to misuse and abuse of drugs. In recent years, deaths involving prescription narcotic painkillers (e.g., oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone), have outnumbered the combined total of deaths involving the illegal drugs heroin and cocaine.
How do you prevent drug poisoning?
- Only take prescription medications that are prescribed to you by a healthcare professional. Misusing or abusing prescription or over-the-counter medications is not a “safe” alternative to illicit substance abuse.
- Never take larger or more frequent doses of your medications, particularly prescription pain medications, to try to get faster or more powerful effects.
- Never share or sell your prescription drugs. Keep all prescription medicines (especially prescription painkillers, such as those containing methadone, hydrocodone, or oxycodone), over-the-counter medicines (including pain or fever relievers and cough and cold medicines), vitamins and herbals in a safe place that can only be reached by people who take or give them.
- Follow directions on the label when you give or take medicines. Read all warning labels. Some medicines cannot be taken safely when you take other medicines or drink alcohol.
- Turn on a light when you give or take medicines at night so that you know you have the correct amount of the right medicine.
- Keep medicines in their original bottles or containers.
- Monitor the use of medicines prescribed for children and teenagers, such as medicines for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
- Do not put your next dose on the counter or table where children can reach them—it only takes seconds for a child to get them.
- If you have to do something else while taking medicine, such as answer the phone, take any young children with you.
- Secure the child safety cap completely every time you use a medicine.
- After using them, do not leave medicines or household products out. As soon as you are done with them, put them away and out of sight in a cabinet where a child cannot reach them.
- Be aware of any legal or illegal drugs that guests may bring into your home. Ask guests to store drugs where children cannot find them. Children can easily get into pillboxes, purses, backpacks, or coat pockets.
- Dispose of unused, unneeded, or expired prescription drugs by participating in National Drug Take Back day at our pharmacy on April 28th of this year.
Some household cleaning and lawn care products also contain chemicals that can be poisonous to people. Follow these warning to prevent accidental poisoning:
- Always read the label before using a product that may be poisonous.
- Keep chemical products in their original bottles or containers. Do not use food containers such as cups, bottles, or jars to store chemical products such as cleaning solutions or beauty products.
- Never mix household products together. For example, mixing bleach and ammonia can result in toxic gases.
- Wear protective clothing (gloves, long sleeves, long pants, socks, shoes) if you spray pesticides or other chemicals.
- Turn on the fan and open windows when using chemical products such as household cleaners.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless and tasteless gas, and is known as the “silent killer”. If you have an oil or gas heating system, water heater or other fuel burning appliance in your home, follow these tips to keep you safe:
- Have a qualified technician service these systems and appliances every late summer or early fall.
- Install battery-operated CO detectors in your home and check or replace the batteries when the time changes in the spring and fall. If the detector sounds, leave the home immediately and call 911.
- Seek medical attention if CO poisoning is suspected or if you feel dizzy, light-headed, or nauseated.
- Do not use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove, or other gasoline- or charcoal-burning device inside the home, basement, garage, or outside the home near a window.
- Never leave a car or truck running inside a garage attached to a house, even if the garage door is left open.
- Do not use a stove or fireplace that is not vented to the outside.
- Do not use a gas cooking oven for heat.
What to do if a poisoning occurs?
- Remain calm.
- Call 911 if you have a poison emergency and the victim has collapsed or is not breathing. If the victim is awake and alert, dial 1-800-222-1222. Try to have this information ready:
- the victim’s age and weight
- the container or bottle of the poison if available
- the time of the poison exposure
- the address where the poisoning occurred
- Stay on the phone and follow the instructions from the emergency operator or poison control center.
Sources: CDC and eMedicineHealth