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. 

  • Half of all poison exposures occur among children younger than six years of age.
  • The Public Health Agency of Canada estimates an average of three deaths each year in Canada among children aged 14 years and younger from unintentional poisoning and 900 are hospitalized with serious injuries. 
  • Poison centres across Canada receive about 160,000 phone calls each year. Close to half of those calls come from frantic parents concerning children younger than six. 

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 household cleaners, alcohol, plants, fertilizers, pesticides, paint thinner, antifreeze and beauty products. 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.  

Solutions

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

Effective poison prevention emphasizes several pillars:

  • Poison prevention education for families.
  • 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.
  • A national phone number for poison information.
  • Establishment and co-ordination of data surveillance and collection.