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Prescription Drug Poisonings on the Rise, Especially Among Young Children

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In many states, drug-related poisoning deaths have become the leading cause of injury death, even surpassing motor vehicle crash fatalities. A new study has found that in 2007, there were about 700,000 drug-related emergency department visits, costing nearly $1.4 billion in emergency department costs alone. This means that every day in the United States, there are an average of 1,900 drug-related emergency department visits and $3.8 million in emergency department charges.

Study senior author Gary Smith, MD, DrPH, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, said the number and cost of drug-related poisonings discovered in the study suggests a public health emergency that requires national, state, and local attention.

The study shows that poisoning by antidepressants, tranquilizers, and pain and fever control medicines were responsible for nearly half of emergency department visits for drug-related poisonings. Among cases involving antidepressants and tranquilizers, 52 percent were suicidal poisonings and 30 percent were unintentional. Among poisonings involving pain and fever control medicines, 41 percent were suicidal and 40 percent were unintentional.

Dr. Smith, who is also a professor of pediatrics at the Ohio State University College of Medicine, said that unlike epidemics involving illicit drugs like heroin and crack cocaine, prescription drug abuse (especially opioid painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin) is now a leading cause of emergency department visits and fatalities. He added that the study also shows that the rate of emergency department visits for drug-related poisonings is three times higher in rural areas than in non-rural areas.

The researchers collected data from the 2007 Nationwide Emergency Department Sample.

Another concerning finding was that children 5 years and younger had a higher rate of emergency department visits for unintentional drug-related poisoning than all other age groups. Dr. Smith noted that despite prevention strategies to avoid unintentional poisonings in young children, the number of accidental poisonings in this age group is still too high. He said that the findings underscore the importance of increasing efforts to prevent drug poisonings among people of all ages.

Source: Science Daily, Medical and Financial Impact of Drug-Related Poisonings Treated in US Emergency Departments, March 1, 2011

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