Poison

Poison

Any foreign substance that can potentially do damage to the human body when ingested, breathed in, injected, or soaked through the skin is considered poison. Any substance can be poisonous if it is overindulged, so poisoning is informally defined as “taking too much of one substance.”

There are two types of poisoning:

  • Intentional poisoning – stems from a person taking or administering a substance with the purpose of inducing bodily harm. This group includes suicide and assault by poisoning.
  • Unintentional poisoning – circumstances in which the person taking or administering a substance did not do it with the goal of causing harm. This category includes the overuse, or overdose, of recreational drugs or chemicals. It also consists of overdose of drugs or chemicals for non-recreational reasons (e.g., baby drinks a cleaning product).

If the kind of poisoning is too vague to define, the intent is often deemed “undetermined.”

Common poisonous substances

  • Legal and illegal drugs
    • Psychoactive drugs (e.g., sedatives, antidepressants, opiates, prescription pain medicine)
    • Prescriptions drugs (e.g., pain killers, hypnotics)
    • Over-the-counter drugs (e.g., pain killers, heart medicine, antidepressants, sedatives, hypnotics)
  • Carbon monoxide from automobile exhaust

Groups most likely to be poisoned

Intentionally – In terms of people who poison themselves for the sake of committing suicide:

  • Males are 1.3 times more likely than females.
  • Whites are 3.6 times more likely than African Americans.
  • The most common age group ranges from 45-49 years old.

In terms of people who attempt suicide by poisoning themselves, receive emergency medical care, and live:

  • Females are 1.7 times more likely than males.
  • The most common age group ranges from 15-19 years old, and the odds consistently decrease as people get older.

Unintentionally – In terms of people who are victims of a fatal unintentional poisoning:

  • Males are 2.1 times more likely than females.
  • The highest mortality rate is among Native Americans.
  • The death rate among whites and African Americans is similar.
  • The most common age group ranges from 40-44 years old.
  • The lowest death rate falls among children below the age of 15.

In terms of people who are victims of an unintentional poisoning, receive emergency medical care, and live:

  • Males are 1.5 times more likely than females.
  • The most common age group ranges from 40-44 years old, with the 0-4 and 85 and older groups not too far behind.

Steps to take in a poisoning emergency

  1. Stay calm.
  2. Call 911 if the victim is passed out or not breathing.
  3. If the victim is awake and oriented, call 1-800-222-1222, and have the following information ready if possible:
    • Victim’s age and weight
    • Bottle containing the poison
    • Time of poisoning
    • Location (e.g., address) where poisoning happened
  4. Remain on the line, and carefully follow orders given by the operator or poison control.