Poisoning

In BC poisoning is a leading cause of both unintentional and intentional injury, accounting for more than 25% of injury-related deaths and hospitalizations. Any substance consumed in excess can result in poisoning. Substances that result in a poisoning, and the populations at risk of poisoning, vary greatly by intent and lethality. Alcohol, drugs, or medicinal agents are the predominant substances that result in over 90% of unintentional poisoning deaths and 85% of hospitalizations.

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Quick Facts & Stats

Causes1 2

  • The greatest numbers of deaths are caused by drugs (91%), followed by alcohol (6.5%), particularly among males (76%), aged 25-54 years.
  • The majority of unintentional poisonings requiring hospitalization (2001/02-2013/14) are due to drugs (79%), followed by other and unspecified chemicals and noxious substances (10%), and alcohol (6%).

Occurrence

  • According to BC Drug and Poison Information Centre (DPIC), over 26,000 unintentional and intentional poisonings are reported to the BC Poison Control Centre each year.
  • There is an average of 1,390 unintentional poisonings in BC that require hospitalization annually. This equates to an average of 7,733 days in hospital annually.
  • There is an average of 360 unintentional poisoning deaths in BC annually.
  • The age group with the highest number of poisoning hospitalizations is those aged 40-59 years.
  • Males and females each account for approximately 50% of direct health care costs of unintentional poisoning hospitalizations. Males accounted for 39% of total suicide/self-harm due to poisoning costs and females accounted for 61%.
  • According to the report, Poisonings in British Columbia, 2000-2005 (Han et al., 2009), each day in BC:
    • At least 1 poisoning-related death occurs;
    • 13 poisoning-related hospitalizations take place;
    • 33 requests are made to BC Ambulance Service (BCAS) to attend poisoning events; and
    • 72 calls are made to DPIC for information and advice.

Costs 3

  • According to The Economic Burden of Injury in BC (BCIRPU, 2015) report:
    • Unintentional poisonings cost $245 million, in 2010 alone. Direct costs totaled $68 million and indirect costs were $177 million.
    • Suicide/self-harm due to poisoning cost $236 million. Direct costs totalled $131 million and indirect costs were $105 million.

Prevention

Current evidence suggests the following best practices to prevent and reduce poisoning-related events:

  • Keep dangerous products out of sight and out of reach of children.
  • Keep medicine and cleaning products locked up.
  • Never call medicine “candy” and do not take medicine in front of a child because he or she might copy you.
  • Avoid the use of cleaning products when children are close by.
  • Keep all cigarettes, butts and ashtrays away from children.
  • Keep products in their original containers. Make sure they are clearly labeled.
  • Ensure that visitors to your home place their purses, bags, etc. out of reach of children.
  • Learn to identify poisonous household plants. Keep plants off the floor and away from crawling or walking children. Label each plant in your home with the exact name.
  • Have a Poison Control emergency number handy in case of emergency.
  • Place safety latches on all drawers or cabinets containing harmful products and use products that have child-resistant safety caps. Be aware that child-resistant caps are not child-proof.
  • Never administer Ipecac without instructions from a doctor or the Poison Control Centre.
  • Install Canadian-certified carbon monoxide (CO) detectors in your home and have gas appliances serviced regularly to prevent CO exposure.

Negative effects have been found regarding the use of warning labels—colourful stickers (e.g. Mr. Yuk) placed on the containers of hazardous substances to warn and deter children from handling or ingesting the contents. Evidence suggests either no effect of the intervention or an increase in children’s handling of labeled medicine. Warning stickers are not a good deterrent for children and may in fact serve as an attraction. Warning stickers cannot be recommended for use as a poisoning deterrent for children.

Information & Resources

Poisoning resources are readily available in BC, both for emergency situations and prevention information.

Poisoning & Prevention Information

BC Drug and Poison Information Centre (BC DPIC) (for information and poison prevention materials and factsheets)
Greater Vancouver: 604-682-5050
Phone toll-free: 1-800-567-8911
Website: www.dpic.org

BC NurseLine
Phone toll-free in BC: 8-1-1
Deaf and hearing impaired toll-free province-wide: 7-1-1
Website: www.healthlinkbc.ca

BC Safety Authority—Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention
If you suspect CO exposure, get outside immediately and call 9-1-1
Website: www.safetyauthority.ca

Public Health Units/Community Health Centres
These offer a wide range of services to promote the optimal physical development, communication and cognitive abilities, healthy emotional attachment, and positive social development for all infants and children. Services include: breastfeeding clinics, nutrition information and consultation, parent and infant drop-in, child health clinics, and family and infant follow-up. Contact your local health authority for information.

Baby’s Best Chance & Toddler’s First Steps
Baby’s Best Chance Parents’ Handbook of Pregnancy and Baby Care, Sixth Edition (2015), and Toddler’s First Steps, Second Edition (2015) are published by the Government of British Columbia. Baby’s Best Chance covers ages 0 to 6 months and offers general safety tips. Toddler’s First Steps covers ages 6 to 36 months and include poison prevention and treatment information. Both of these resources are available from public health offices or via the Healthy Families BC website.

Canadian Poisonous Plants Information System
Poisonous plants by botanical and common names; includes interactive search tool.
Website: www.cbif.gc.ca

Health Canada (for Poison Prevention Materials and Factsheets)

Featured Reports

  1. Discharge Abstract Database, Ministry of Health. Retrieved from Injury Data Online Tool (iDOT), BCIRPU.
  2. BC Vital Statistics Agency. Retrieved from iDOT, BCIRPU.
  3. SMARTRISK. (2009). The Economic Burden of Injury in Canada. SMARTRISK: Toronto, ON.