Objectives: To characterise the types of calls received by Australian Poisons Information Centres (PICs) in Australia, and to analyse poisoning exposures by age group, circumstances of exposure, and the types of substances involved.
Design, setting: Retrospective analysis of call records from all four Australian PICs (national coverage).
Main outcome measures: Basic demographic information; exposure circumstances, substance types involved in each age group; recommendations for management (eg, stay at home, go to hospital).
Results: There were 204 906 calls to Australian PICs in 2015, 69.0% from the general public, 27.9% from health professionals; 16.2% of calls originated from hospitals. 170 469 calls (including re-calls about an exposure) related to 164 363 poison exposure events; 64.4% were unintentional, 18.1% were the consequences of medication error, and 10.7% involved deliberate self-poisoning. Most exposures were of 20-74-year-old adults (40.1%) or 1-4-year-old toddlers (36.0%). The PICs advised callers to stay at home for 67.4% of exposures, and to present to hospital for 10.9%. The most common substances involved in exposures overall were household cleaners (10.2%) and paracetamol-containing analgesics (7.3%). Exposures of infants and toddlers were most frequently to household cleaning substances (17.8%, 15.3% respectively) and personal care items (6.6%, 7.3%); callers were usually advised to stay at home (88.5%, 86.4%). Deliberate self-poisoning (49.1%) and hospital referral (23.9%) were most frequent for adolescents. Exposures of adults (20-74 years) frequently involved psychotropic pharmaceuticals (17.8%) or painkillers (15.1%). Exposures in adults over 74 were typically medication errors involving cardiovascular (23.6%), anticoagulant (4.6%), or antidiabetic (4.1%) medications.
Conclusions: Poisoning is a significant public health problem throughout Life, but the nature of the hazards differs markedly between age groups. PIC data could inform strategic public health interventions that target age-specific poisoning hazards.