Poisoning - BC Injury Research and Prevention Unit


Medication is the leading cause of poisoning in children. Products that can be poisonous to children include:

  • Cannabis products (oils, edibles)
  • Prescribed and over-the-counter medications
  • Household cleaners (detergent pods, bleach)
  • Personal hygiene products (hand sanitizer, mouthwash, nail polish)
  • Garden products
  • Car fluids (windshield fluid, oil)

Keep these items out of reach from young children, and be aware that colourful packaging can make products look appealing and edible. Edible cannabis products can also pose a risk to young children, as they often resemble everyday treats (gummies, brownies).

Learn more about poison prevention:

In BC poisoning is a leading cause of both unintentional and intentional injury deaths (2014-2017, BC Vital Statistics). 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 from unintentional poisonings were caused by drugs (96%), followed by alcohol (3.5%), particularly among males (77%) and particularly among those aged 20-49 years (67%).
  • The majority of unintentional poisonings requiring hospitalization (2012/13-2016/17) are due to drugs (86%), followed by other and unspecified chemicals and noxious substances (6%), and alcohol (5%).


  • 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 1,590 unintentional poisonings in BC that require hospitalization annually. This equates to an average of 9,441 days in hospital annually. (ref, Discharge Abstract Database, Ministry of Health, average data 2012/13 to 2016/17)
    • There is an average of 689 unintentional poisoning deaths in BC annually (average from 2014-2017, BC Vital Statistics).
    • The age groups with the highest number of poisoning hospitalizations are those aged 20-34 years and 45-64 years.
    • 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 34

  • Unintentional poisonings cost $316 million, in 2013 alone. Direct costs totaled $86 million and indirect costs were $229 million. The total cost of deaths, inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment and permanent disability were $201 million, $22 million, $8 million and $84 million, respectively.
  • Suicide/self-harm due to poisoning cost $251 million. Direct costs totalled $143 million and indirect costs were $107 million. The total cost of deaths, inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment and permanent disability were $45 million, $32 million, $4 million and $170 million, respectively.


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.
  4.  Rajabali, F, Beaulieu E, Smith J, Pike I. The Economic Burden of Injuries in British Columbia: Applying Evidence to Practice. BC Medical Journal. 2018; Sept;60 (7):358-364.