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Most ED visits for accidental drug ingestions attributed to young children

Central nervous system medications account for 40% of cases, followed by pain relievers at 21%, a report finds.

By Doug Trapp — Posted Oct. 29, 2010

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More than 100,000 people went to emergency departments in 2008 after accidentally ingesting drugs, and children 5 and younger accounted for 69% of those visits, according to a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report released Oct. 14.

Among those children, 42% were 2 years old and 30% were 1, according to the report, which is believed to be the first to analyze the relationship between emergency department visits and accidental drug ingestions. The children were most likely to have swallowed central nervous system drugs, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen products and benzodiazepines. These pharmaceuticals accounted for 40% of what was ingested. Pain relievers were the next most common at 21%, and drugs to treat anxiety and insomnia were taken 12% of the time.

Study authors used statistics from the Drug Abuse Warning Network, a national public health surveillance system run by SAMHSA in Rockville, Md. Specialty and federal hospitals were not part of the data analyzed.

Although the report did not investigate what led to the accidents, parental negligence was probably not a central reason, said Marsha Ford, MD, a member of the American College of Emergency Physicians' Federal Government Affairs Committee and president-elect of the American Assn. of Poison Control Centers. Children move faster and climb higher than some adults realize, she said.

Among the children 5 and younger, 85% were treated at the ED and released, the study found. An additional 9% were admitted for inpatient care, and nearly all the rest were transferred to another health care facility. The data do not include information about the number of fatalities, said SAMHSA spokeswoman Susan Cruzan.

Dr. Ford said physicians should give this advice to patients:

  • Keep medicine locked up with child-resistant caps in place.
  • Don't leave drugs unattended, even momentarily.
  • Never refer to medicine as candy when giving it to children.
  • Don't take medicine in front of children, because a child may decide to imitate a parent.

U.S. poison centers handled 528,598 calls in 2008, with 83% managed at the point of contact without visiting a medical facility, according to the American Assn. of Poison Control Centers. The national number for poison control centers is 800-222-1222.

The report is available online (link).

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