Many people are often surprised when they hear just how many cases we handle each year. In 2018, that number was about 39,000. That means our phones rang about 106 times every day with a new case! Roughly 31,000 cases were about exposures in people; the rest were about animals or general calls for information.
We have been taking a look at some of the most common substances mentioned in the calls we receive. To make it more interesting, we broke them down by age group. Check out our children’s edition here.
This time, we will look at the top three poisons reported in the cases we managed for adults and older adults.
Adults (ages 20-59 years)
Adults ages 20-59 years accounted for 33.7% of exposures in 2018.
#3: Stimulants and Street Drugs
This category includes prescription medicines for ADHD and caffeine. Commonly they are dosing errors or intentionally taking more than recommended for an energy boost. Street drugs such as heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and synthetic cannabinoids are included here as well. Adults are commonly exposed to these substances as a result of substance use disorders.
#2: Sedatives, Hypnotics, and Antipsychotics
These medicines are often prescribed to adults for known medical issues, but are also commonly misused or abused. If one pill makes you feel better, certainly three will make you feel great…right? Wrong! Make sure you take the medicine exactly as it says on the label. Benzodiazepines, such as Valium® or Xanax®, lead this category. These medicines are commonly used to treat anxiety or to aid with sleep. Unfortunately, these medicines are also used in suicide attempts. If you or someone you know might be at risk of attempting suicide, there are resources available that can offer support and understanding. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
#1: Analgesics (Pain Relievers)
Dosing errors are common with pain relievers. Many people who take these medicines take the wrong amount. The calls that we receive are often about the misuse and abuse of prescription pain relievers. As with sedatives, hypnotics, and antipsychotics, suicide attempts can also involve a pain reliever. Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen lead this category, followed by opioid pain relievers. There are more than 600 prescription and OTC medicines that contain acetaminophen. Reading the medicine label is important to make sure you don’t take too much.
Older Adults (ages 59+ years)
Older adults accounted for 9.8% of exposures in 2018. Generally, these exposures happen due to dosing errors, which can be caused by bad eyesight, not putting glasses on first, forgetfulness, or being distracted. Other reasons for exposure include misuse, suicide attempts, and adverse drug reactions.
#3: Sedatives, Hypnotics, and Antipsychotics
These medicines are often prescribed to treat a wide range of symptoms in this age group. As with adults, benzodiazepines lead this category. Dosing errors can increase the likelihood of experiencing adverse effects, like drowsiness and being unsteady on your feet, which can lead to falls.
#2: Analgesics (Pain Relievers)
OTC pain relievers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen lead this category. And, it doesn’t help that the print on OTC medicine labels seems to be getting smaller and smaller. Reading the medicine label for all medicines you take is very important. If taking prescription medicines, check with the poison center, your pharmacist, or your doctor to see if they will interact with an OTC medicine. Some prescription pain relievers contain acetaminophen, so taking an OTC pain reliever or cough medicine with acetaminophen could result in an acetaminophen overdose.
#1: Cardiovascular Medicines
Heart medicines are commonly prescribed in this age group. Taking these medicines correctly is very important. Some medicines pose more of a risk than others. That’s why calling the experts is recommended when there is a mistake with heart medicines. If you can’t remember if you took your medicine, don’t guess. Call us to see whether you should take a potential second dose or skip the dose.
While all of the top three substances reported last year were medicines, we are also here to help if someone has been exposed to other products such as cleaners, personal care products, or pesticides. We can also give expert advice on bites and stings, and general poison information. If you suspect someone has been exposed to a potential poison, call 1-800-222-1222 right away. Our poison experts are available 24/7/365 at no charge to you. For more data and information on the exposures in 2018, the data snapshot can be found here.