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Poisoning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), occurs when people drink, eat, breathe, inject, or touch enough of a chemical (poison) to cause illness or death. Coming in contact with poisons can cause immediate illness or injury or take hours, days, or even years with long-term exposure. Poisoning that occurs accidentally is defined as “unintentional poisoning” and poisoning that results from a conscious, willful decision (such as homicide or suicide) as “intentional poisoning.”

According to America's Poison Centers, the 55 U.S. Poison Centers which manage exposure cases via telephone responded to over two million human exposure cases in 2022. On average, this meant a new poison case was responded to every 15 seconds in the United States.

The top five substances people were exposed to in 2022 were analgesics (painkillers such as aspirin, codeine and fentanyl), household cleaners, antidepressants, cosmetics or personal care products, and antihistamines (allergy medications). 40 percent of the cases were for children under the age of 5, and 76 percent of the overall cases were due to unintentional exposure.

Safety Tips for Children

  • Put the poison control number, 1-800-222-1222, on or near every home phone and save it on your cell phone.
  • Keep all drugs in medicine cabinets or other childproof cabinets that young children cannot reach.
  • Turn on light when giving medicine so that you know you have given the correct amount of the right medicine.
  • Avoid taking medicine in front of children because they often copy adults.
  • Do not call medicine “candy.”
  • Be aware of any legal or illegal drugs that guests bring into your home.
  • Do not leave your next dose of medicine on the counter or table where children can reach them.
  • Never leave children alone with household product, drugs, or chemicals.
  • Do not leave household products out after using them.
  • Place poisonous plants in your house and yard out of the reach of children.

Safety Tips for Drugs and Medicines

  • Follow directions on label when taking medicine.
  • Turn on a light when giving or taking medicine at night so you know you have given the correct amount of the right medicine.
  • Never share or sell your prescription drugs.
  • Keep medicine in their original bottles or containers.
  • Keep medicine in a safe place out of the reach of children.
  • Monitor the use of medicine prescribed to children and teenagers.
  • Be careful when you dispose drugs that can be abused.

Safety Tips for Household Chemicals and Carbon Monoxide

  • Always read the label before using potentially poisonous products.
  • Open windows or turn on a fan when using household cleaners such as pesticides and paint.
  • Wear protective gloves when using household cleaners, pesticides, or other chemicals.
  • Keep chemicals in their original containers or bottles.
  • Do not mix household products together, as they may produce a poisonous gas such as bleach and ammonia.

What to Do in Case of Poisoning

1. Remain calm.

2. Call 911 if a victim is unconscious or not breathing. If the victim is awake and alert, dial 1-800-222-1222. Have the following information ready:

a. The victim’s age and weight
b. The container or bottle of the poison if available
c. The time the poisoning took place
d. The address where the poisoning occurred

3. Stay on the phone and follow instructions from the emergency operator or poison control center.

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Page last updated: May 31, 2024