Best Practices to Prevent Poisonings | Best practices in injury prevention

Best Practices to Prevent Poisonings

August 2004

The Problem

Poisonings, both self-inflicted and unintentional, are leading causes of hospitalized injuries in Minnesota. Self-inflicted poisoning is the first leading cause for females ages 10-44 and the second leading cause for those aged 45-54.

When all age groups are combined, unintentional poisoning is the fourth leading cause of hospitalized injury. The youngest children are most affected: for infants under age 1, poisoning is the leading cause of injury, and for those ages 1-4, the second leading cause of injury.

According to the CDC, U.S. poison control centers handle an average of one poison exposure every 15 seconds. More than 90 percent of poison exposures occur in the home and 53 percent occur among children younger than age six. The most common poison exposures for children were ingestion of household products such as cosmetics and personal care products, cleaning substances, pain relievers, foreign bodies, and plants. For adults, the most common poison exposures were pain relievers, sedatives, cleaning substances, antidepressants, and bites and stings.

Childhood lead poisoning is considered one of the most preventable environmental diseases of young children, yet about one million children have elevated blood levels of lead. Carbon monoxide results in more fatal unintentional poisonings in the United States than any other agent, with the highest number occurring during the winter months.

Medical spending for poisoning treatment totaled $3 billion in 1992. Spending averaged $925 (in 1992 dollars) per case. For every dollar spent on poison control services in 1992, an estimated $7 was saved in medical care payments by reducing the number of medically treated poisonings. The savings per poisoning call were $175.

Prevention Strategies

    Unless otherwise noted, the safety tips below were adapted from the American Association of Poison Control Centers, Poison Prevention Tips, 2002 and the CDC Perspective in Disease Prevention and Health Promotion National Poison Prevention Week: 25th Anniversary Observance MMWR, 1986.

    Make your home safer
    • Post the poison control number, 1.800.222.1222, on or near every home telephone.
    • Store all medicines, household products, and personal care products in locked cabinets that are out of reach of small children.
    • Know the names of the plants in your house and yard. Identify poisonous plants and place them out of reach of children or remove them.
    • Be aware of any medicines that visitors may bring into your home. Make sure your visitors do not leave their medicines where children can find them easily, for example in an unattended purse or suitcase.
    • Monitor the air quality in your house. Place carbon monoxide monitors near the bedrooms in your house (CPSC, 2002).
    • All combustion (fuel burning) appliances should be professionally installed and inspected annually. (CDC, 1995)
    • Check your house for lead-based paints. Contact the National Lead Information Center at 1.800.424.LEAD to receive more detailed information (CDC, NCEH 2002).

    Use poisonous products safely
    • Always store household products in their original containers. Do not use food containers such as cups or bottles to store chemical products such as cleaning solutions or cosmetic products.
    • Always read the labels before using a potentially poisonous product. Never leave the product unattended while using it and return the product to the locked cabinet when you are finished.
    • Turn on a light when giving or taking medication.
    • Avoid taking medicine in front of children because they tend to imitate adults.
    • Do not call medicine candy.
    • Follow directions on label when taking medicines. Be aware of potential interactions with other medicines or alcohol and never share prescription drugs.
    • Turn on the fan and open windows when using chemical products.
    • Wear protective clothing (gloves, long pants, long sleeves, socks, shoes) when spraying pesticides and other chemicals.
    • Never mix household and chemical products together. A poisonous gas may be created when mixing chemicals.
    • Do not burn fuels or charcoal or use gasoline-powered engines in confined spaces such as garages, tents, or poorly ventilated rooms.
    What to do if a poisoning exposure occurs
    • Remain calm.
    • If you have a poison emergency and the victim has collapsed or is not breathing call 911. If you have a poison exposure and the victim is alert call 1-800-222-1222. Try to have the following information ready if possible:
      • the person's age and estimated weight
      • the container or bottle of the poisonous product, if available
      • the time that the poison exposure occurred
      • your name and phone number
    • Follow the instructions from the emergency operator or the poison control center.


(Search these sites for information related to the prevention of Poisonings)

*There may be links on this site that are external to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). The MDH is not responsible for the content of external sites, nor does it endorse or guarantee the services or information described or offered on external sites.

American Association of Poison Control Centers: Access information from this national organization of poison centers and individuals.
Injury Prevention Web: Link to injury data for all states and 1,100 government and nonprofit organizations worldwide.
Injury and Violence Prevention Links: Access other sites that are related to injury and violence prevention.
Minnesota Poison Control System: Access emergency poison management and poison prevention information.

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