Poisoning: Top Cause Of Unintentional Injury Deaths In Snohomish County

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Since 2004, unintentional poisonings have outpaced motor vehicle crashes as the number one cause of unintentional injury death in Snohomish County, according to a Snohomish Health District report.

Ninety-eight people died of unintentional poisonings in 2007. Since 1990, the rate of unintentional poisoning deaths has increased fivefold to 14 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2007.

Drug overdose caused 97 percent of these deaths, and 79 percent of deaths between 2005 and 2007 involved at least one opioid – a type of pain killer. More than 60 percent involved a prescription opioid such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone or morphine.

Opioids can cause respiratory depression in which breathing is slowed.

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“Taking these drugs in high doses or in combination with other drugs that also cause respiratory depression (such as antidepressants) increases the risk of death,” warns Dr. Gary Goldbaum, Health Officer and Director of the local public health agency.

In fact, prescription opioids were used in combination with other drugs in 83 percent of unintentional poisoning deaths during this period. An average of three drugs was reported in these prescription opioid-related deaths. More than half of the prescription opioid deaths involved another prescription drug (such as antidepressants like Celexa or antianxiety drugs like Valium) that was not an opioid. About one-third of the deaths were a result of opioids mixed with over-the-counter drugs such as antihistamines like Benadryl.

According to the report, adults ages 35-54 were at highest risk of prescription opioid deaths. Males were also at a slightly higher risk than women.

Everyone can play a role in prevention – health care providers, pharmacists and individuals.

“A person taking medications needs to discuss them with his or her doctor or pharmacist, to understand dosing, interactions with other drugs, and side effects,” said Dr. Goldbaum. “We also need to increase local awareness about this problem – identifying the causes of death is an essential first step for improving our public’s health.”

More data are included in Unintentional Poisonings in Snohomish County, published by the Health District this month, and are available at www.snohd.org/snoHealthStats.

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