Issue: Unintentional poisoning

Poisoning is a much larger public health issue than is generally recognized, with children being particularly at risk of unintentional poisoning. For Canadians of all ages, poisoning is the third leading cause of injury deaths.

Problem: Poisoning in children

Children are at particular risk of poisoning due to their growing curiosity and inexperience: as children begin to climb and reach new things, they don’t necessarily have the experience to know what to avoid. 

  • In 2018, unintentional poisoning was the second-leading cause of injury hospitalization and injury-related emergency department visits for children aged four years and younger. 
  • More than a third of all poison centre cases across Canada in 2020 concerned children aged five years and younger. 

Medication is the leading cause of all unintentional poisonings of children age 14 and under. The remaining poisonings are caused by a wide range of products such as:

  • alcohol
  • antifreeze
  • beauty products
  • fertilizers
  • household cleaners
  • paint thinner
  • pesticides
  • plants

While adults may be deterred from consuming a substance by its bad taste, this is not the case with young children. Their sense of taste is different from an adult’s, resulting in the ability to drink substances such as windshield washer fluid without being bothered by the taste.  


Prevention of poisoning is best accomplished through a multifaceted approach combining education, enforcement and environmental modifications. 

Effective poison prevention emphasizes several pillars:

  • A national phone number for poison information. Canada has a toll-free 24/7 number for poison centres. If you suspect a poisoning, call 1-844-POISON-X (1-844-764-7669). 
  • Establishment and co-ordination of data surveillance and collection. 
  • Safe storage of potentially poisonous substances.
  • Limiting the quantity of potentially harmful over-the-counter drugs that can be purchased in a single package.
  • Mandatory carbon monoxide alarms in all residences.
  • Poison prevention education for families.