Poisonings due to medications decreasing but more work needed

29 January 2018
The number of child poisonings due to accidental exposure to medicines has decreased however more education is needed to reduce the number of children with non-urgent cases presenting to hospital.

Research from the University of Sydney has found that while hospital admissions for child poisonings from medicines have decreased, there were an increasing number of non-urgent presentations to the emergency department.

The study found that from 2007 to 2013 in New South Wales there were 67,816 calls to the poisons information centre (PIC), 7,739 emergency department presentations and 2,082 hospital admissions.

Lead author Dr Jane Bell from the Menzies Centre for Health Policy said poisonings remained a common and preventable issue with more interventions needed.

“There remain a considerable number of young children accidentally exposed to medicines, resulting in almost one hospitalisation, three emergency department presentations and 27 calls to the poisons information line every day,” Dr Bell said.

“Our study found that poisonings occur most commonly in toddlers aged one to two years old, and most of these are related to children accidentally accessing medicines at home. The importance of safe storage of medicines, out of sight and out of reach, should be promoted.

“Our findings reveal areas for targeted strategies and interventions to reduce therapeutic errors (better labelling of medications), access to medicines by young children (child resistant packaging) and public education campaigns to promote use of the poisons information centre and reduce non-urgent emergency department presentations.”

The study from 2007 to 2013, found, per 10,000 children:

- Calls to the poisons information centre declined from 220 to 178

- Emergency department presentations remained stable between 22-24 with a decrease in emergency cases offset by an increase in semi or non-urgent cases

- Hospital admissions declined from eight to five

- The most common medicines involved were those containing paracetamol, ibuprofen and nappy rash creams.

“If parents or caregivers contacted the PIC rather than going to the emergency department, the advice from professionals may reduce their anxiety and worry and prevent an unnecessary trip to the hospital,” said Dr Bell.

“If children with semi and non-urgent poisonings could avoid the emergency department, it would reduce the impact of pharmacological poisonings by one-third.”

This study is the first to provide a comprehensive, population-based picture of pharmacological poisonings in young children across the whole health system. It uses complementary data from three health settings, including the Poisons Information Centre, Emergency Department presentations and hospital admissions. 

Elliott Richardson

Assistant Media Advisor (Medicine, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy)

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