updated 1/6/2011 10:17:26 AM ET 2011-01-06T15:17:26

ALEXANDRIA, Va., Jan. 6, 2011 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Medications remained the leading cause of poisoning deaths in 2009, with most poisoning fatalities occurring among adults, according to a new report by the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

The report, based on data from 2009 calls to U.S. poison centers, found that sedatives/hynotics/ antipsychotics, cardiovascular drugs, opioids and acetaminophen combinations were most frequently associated with poison-related deaths that year. In all, poison centers reported 1,158 poison-related fatalities in 2009.

"Poison-related fatalities continue to be a significant cause of death in the United States today," said Dr. Alvin C. Bronstein, lead author of the report and acting director of toxicosurveillance at the American Association of Poison Control Centers. "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said unintentional poisonings are the second highest cause of accidental death in this country, behind car accidents. The need to effectively treat and prevent poisonings remains a significant public health issue that demands attention."

Among children five and under, cosmetics/personal care products, analgesics and cleaning substances were most frequently involved in poison exposures and analgesics, batteries and hydrocarbons were most frequently involved in poison-related fatalities among that age group.

"Children younger than six were involved in the majority of all poison exposures reported to poison centers in 2009," said Dr. Richard Dart, president of the American Association of Poison Control Centers. "But they accounted for just 1.8 percent of poison-related fatalities that year. Most fatalities occurred in people between the ages of 20 and 59. People often think their poison center is the place to call when their child gets into the medicine cabinet. That's certainly true, but poison centers serve all age groups, all backgrounds, and all types of poison exposures."

In all, U.S. poison centers took more than 4.2 million calls in 2009, treating more than 2.4 million human poison exposures. Poison centers also took more than 1.6 million information calls, answering questions about poisons, poison prevention and drug interactions, among other topics. In 2009, for example, many poison centers supported states' efforts to respond to the H1N1 pandemic, in some cases staffing state hotlines on H1N1.

Most poison exposures occurred in the home: nearly 94 percent of all poison exposures occurred in a personal residence. And, once again, most were treated without having to go to a health care facility: More than 72 percent of calls from the general public were managed at the site where the poison exposure occurred.

Doctors, also, consulted poison centers: More than 16 percent of all exposure calls to poison centers originated at a health care facility, meaning doctors, nurses and other health care professionals also rely on poison centers for medical treatment advice.

Among other findings in the report:

  • The top five substance classes most frequently involved in all human exposures were analgesics (11.7 percent); cosmetics/personal care products (7.7 percent); household cleaning substances (7.4 percent); sedatives/hypnotics/antipsychotics (5.8 percent); foreign bodies/toys/miscellaneous (4.3 percent).
  • Children younger than three were involved in 38.9 percent of all poison exposures and children younger than six accounted for just over half of all human exposures (51.9 percent).
  • While nearly 94 percent of all poison exposures occurred in the home, poison exposures also occurred in the workplace (1.51 percent); in school (1.26 percent) and in restaurants or food service establishments (.24 percent).
  • More than 82 percent of all poison exposures were unintentional, while 13.9 percent were intentional. Of that 13.9 percent, 8.9 percent were suspected suicides.

The report is based on information from the National Poison Data System, which tracks every call made to U.S. poison centers, serving as a national resource to collect and monitor U.S. poison exposures and serving as the only near real-time national surveillance system in place to track health trends.

"This database is a tremendous scientific tool that's in operation in poison centers around the country every day," Bronstein said. "Poison centers have helped to monitor the impact of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the H1N1 outbreak, and new and emerging illicit drugs. They are an invaluable resource to public health, and this report – and this surveillance database – illustrates that."

Sixty-one poison centers, representing all 50 states, American Samoa, the District of Columbia, the Federated States of Micronesia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands contributed to the database. The report was authored by Drs. Bronstein, Daniel A. Spyker, Louis R. Cantilena Jr., Jody L. Green, Barry H. Rumack, as well as AAPCC Past-President Sandra L. Giffin.

"Poison centers are staffed by medical professionals 24 hours a day, seven days a week to answer questions and provide treatment advice about any substance that can be harmful to your health," said Jim Hirt, executive director of the American Association of Poison Control Centers. "By calling your poison center, you can possibly avoid an unnecessary trip to the hospital, saving dollars and time while getting expert medical care."

This is the 27th annual report issued by the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

The full report is available online at www.aapcc.org . It was published in the January issue of Clinical Toxicology.

Contact: Jessica Wehrman

(703) 894-1863

wehrman@aapcc.org

www.aapcc.org

The American Association of Poison Control Centers supports the nation's poison control centers. Poison centers offer free and confidential services 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For questions about poison or poison prevention, call your local poison control center at 1 (800) 222-1222.

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