Upstate News

March 18, 2008
Darryl Geddes 315 464-4828

Accidental overdose of pain medication tops calls to Upstate New York Poison Center

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Accidental overdosing of pain medications was one of the top reasons adults called the Upstate New York Poison Center in 2007.

More than five adults each day, or 1,275, called the center out of concern over taking too many pain medications or analgesics, the center reported today.

“One of the reasons we’re overdosing on pain medication is because of consumer confusion,” said Gail Banach, education director of the Upstate New York Poison Center. “Few people understand that the cough and cold medicine they take also contains a pain medication. By taking additional pain pills, we’re multi-dosing.”

Banach said accidental overdosing is also caused when individuals double up on a prescription medicine because they have missed a dose. If it’s an over-the-counter medicine, many are inclined to take more then the recommended dosage, because they think it is less harmful. “Call the pharmacist or physician before you start down this road,” she said. “The risk of taking too much medication is too significant.”

While an overdose of non-narcotic analgesics can be life-threatening, Banach said most symptoms of pain relievers are often not immediately apparent. When contacting the Poison Center for a possible overdose of pain medication, Banach said, it is imperative that callers know the medications they have taken and the amount ingested. “Having this information will help us determine whether the poisoning can be managed at home or if one needs to get to an emergency room,” she said.

Banach said that while pain relievers topped the list of calls, accidental overdosing of prescription drugs, such as sedatives or hypnotics, antidepressants and cardiovascular drugs, accounted for 62 percent of the calls seeking information for individuals over the age of 19.

Half of all calls to the poison center about children under the age of 6 were for ingesting cosmetics, cleaning products and plants. Banach said much of these situations could be managed at home with the help of the Poison Center.

About 30 percent of all child poisonings were a result of children getting access to medications, both over-the-counter and prescription drugs.

Banach urged parents to keep all medications out of reach of children, but also out of their line of sight. If possible, Banach recommends that adults not take medicine in front of their child. “Children like to mimic their parents in every way, from playing dress-up to taking the pills that mom and dad take.”

The best way to keep your child safe from poisonings is to prevent poisonings from happening in the first place. “This is true not just for medications, but also for all potentially hazardous substances,” Banach said. “We continue to see many calls related to children who have opened a poisonous product like drain cleaner or bleach that was left in an unlocked cabinet under the sink.”

The Upstate New York Poison Center, which serves 34 counties in eastern and central New York is a regional, certified center of the American Association of Poison Control Centers and is affiliated with SUNY Upstate Medical University. Last year, the Poison Center handled more than 28,000 exposure calls and 7,000 information-only calls.

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