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Poisoning among Young Children -- United States

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that the nation's 430 poison control centers are contacted 1.5 million times each year about exposures* to potentially toxic substances (1). In 1981, FDA's Poisoning Surveillance and Epidemiology Branch received over 121,000 reports of product- or substance-specific exposures to suspected poisons. Children under 5 years of age accounted for 60.3% of these exposures, and 13.0% of these were associated with clinical evidence of toxicity. Pharmaceuticals, including both prescription and over-the-counter products, accounted for 40.0% of the exposures (Figure 1). The most common pharmaceutical involved was flavored chewable vitamins (14.1%). After pharmaceuticals, the most frequently reported exposures for children under 5 years of age were to "cleaners, polishes" and plants. The "other, unknown" category of exposures, which includes ingestion of multiple products and illicit substances, accounted for 10.4% of the exposures. Reported by RC Nelson, MS, MI Fow, DJ Brancato, MS, BI Cohen, GD Armstrong, MS, Poisoning Surveillance and Epidemiology Br, Office of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Food and Drug Administration, Rockville, Maryland; Special Studies Br, Chronic Diseases Div, Center for Environmental Health, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: In recent years, the number of childhood poisonings has fallen dramatically, especially poisonings from substances required to be packaged with child-resistant closures. Despite this, many preventable poisonings continue to occur. For ingestion alone, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimated that, in 1983, over 130,000 children under 5 years of age were treated in hospital emergency rooms for potentially toxic substances; 13.9% of these children were hospitalized.**

March 18-March 24, 1984, marks the 23rd annual National Poison Prevention Week (2). It is sponsored by the Poison Prevention Week Council,*** a coalition of 31 national organizations representing industry, consumer groups, health professionals, government, and the media. This year, the theme is "Children Act Fast . . . So Do Poisons." Emphasis will be on activities designed to raise public awareness of the importance of preventing childhood poisonings and encouraging the public (1) to learn about the dangers of unintentional poisoning and (2) to take appropriate preventive measures. National Poison Prevention Week will also emphasize the role that poison control centers play in preventing poisonings among children by providing public information, expert consultation, and specialized diagnostic and treatment recommendations for poisonings within their respective communities.

As part of National Poison Prevention Week, the Council will:

  1. Promote the theme, "Children Act Fast . . . So Do Poisons," and publicize the services of local poison control centers through workshops, school programs, and the media.

  2. Highlight local activities by pharmacies, hospitals, schools, health departments, safety officials, and businesses that focus on reducing unintentional injuries among children. In addition, CPSC, one of the members of the Council, will conduct

seminars for pharmacists and physicians on the importance of using child-resistant closures and will distribute its publication, "Poison Prevention Packaging: A Text for Pharmacists and Physicians" (3).


  1. Schaffer J, Lavengood SJ. 1980 survey of poison control centers summary. National Clearinghouse for Poison Control Centers Bull 1982;26:1.

  2. National Poison Prevention Week, 1984: Presidential Proclamation 5122. Federal Register October 31, 1983;48:50053.

  3. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Poison prevention packaging: a text for pharmacists and physicians. Washington, D. C.: U.S. Government Printing Office: 1983 (1983/661-620/53). *Based on inquiries to poison control centers about inappropriate ingestion, inhalation, absorption, injection, or application of potentially toxic substances. **Based on data from CPSC's National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS). ***P.O. Box 1543, Washington, D. C. 20013.

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