Accidental drug ingestions lead to more than 100,000 hospital emergency department visits annually

A new Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) study found that two-thirds (68.9 percent) of the 100,340 emergency department visits made in 2008 for accidental ingestion of drugs were made by children aged 5 or younger.

Two-fifths (42.3 percent) of the visits involved patients aged 2 years old, and almost one third (29.5 percent) involved one-year-old patients.  The report showed that males accounted for slightly more than half (55.7 percent) of the emergency department visits for accidental drug ingestion among children aged 5 or younger.

The survey also indicated that these incidents included drugs that act on the central nervous system (CNS) (40.8 percent), with the two main CNS drugs being pain relievers (21.1 percent), and drugs for insomnia and anxiety (11.6 percent). The study also found that 15.7 percent of the emergency department visits involved drugs for treating heart disease, followed by respiratory system drugs (10.3%). 

 “Poisoning is one of the most common childhood injuries. Most of the time it happens right at home,” said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D. “Locking up drugs and properly disposing leftover or expired drugs can save lives. Studies like this one that measure the impact on the health care system of accidental ingestion of drugs also provides us an opportunity to get the message out to parents and caregivers that there are simple steps they can take to prevent accidental drug ingestion.”

The study also looked at whether these young patients needed additional care and treatment following their initial treatment at the hospital emergency department. Most of the children who were taken to an emergency department because of accidental drug ingestion were treated and released following the visit (85.3 percent). However, about 1 in 10 (8.7 percent) of the patients were admitted for inpatient care and 5 percent were transferred to other health care facilities.  

The study, Emergency Department Visits Involving Accidental Ingestion of Drugs by Children Aged 5 or Younger, was developed as part of the agency’s strategic initiative on data, outcomes, and quality – an effort to inform policy makers and service providers on the nature and scope of behavioral health issues. It is based on SAMHSA’s 2008 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) report. DAWN is a public health surveillance system that monitors drug-related hospital emergency department visits reported throughout the nation.

A copy of the study is available at:

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Media Contact: SAMHSA Press Office
Telephone: 240-276-2130