Many people believe that adults and older adults are not at risk for poisoning. However, medicines, household products, personal care products, and garden and automotive products have been known to contribute to poisonings in adults and older adults.
Remember, poisons are everywhere. A poison is anything that can harm someone if it is used:
- in the wrong way
- by the wrong person
- in the wrong amount
Although some poisonings that involve adults and older adults are intentional, others are not and can be prevented. Understanding the factors that put adults and older adults at risk for poisoning can help prevent future poisonings.
Primary Risk Factors for Adults and Older Adults:
- Ignoring Product Labels: Whether it is because we are in a hurry or because we have used a product in the past, adults and older adults are often guilty of ignoring product labels. It is important to read product and medicine labels every time. This will ensure that we are using the correct product, in the correct way, and in the correct amount.
- Drug Interactions: It is important to realize that over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, natural medicines, and prescription medicines can interact with each other and/or with other things we eat and drink. Before taking any medicine, vitamin, or dietary supplement, check with your pharmacist or health care provider to make sure there are no precautions you need to be aware of.
- Workplace Exposures: Adults and older adults may be exposed to chemicals and substances in the workplace. It is important to know as much about the products you use at work as the products you use at home.
- Substance Abuse: Many people associate substance abuse with teens. However, recent data has shown that the drug poisoning death rate is highest in adults ages 45-54 years.
- Suicide: Suicide is a leading cause of death in all adult age groups. For women, poisoning is the leading method of suicide.
Additional Risk Factors for Older Adults:
- Complex Medicine Regimens: Some older adults take multiple medicines at various times during the day. Keeping track of when medicines are taken is vital for preventing unintentional medicine overdoses. Daily pill reminders or medicine charts are helpful to keep track of complex medicine schedules.
- Therapeutic Errors: Missing a dose of medicine can be just as significant as taking a double dose. If you can't remember if you have taken a dose of medicine, don't guess. Call the poison center to see if it is better to skip the dose or take a potential second dose.
- Insufficient Medical Monitoring: With some medicines, it is necessary to perform routine blood work to make sure the proper amount of medicine is being taken. Often these blood tests are skipped or not ordered, putting the patient at risk.
- Diminished Eyesight: Nobody likes to admit that they can't read a label. However, before using any medicine or household product, we should put on our glasses and turn on the light to read the label. Consider having a magnifier to read the small print on medicine labels to help ensure that you are taking the medicine correctly.
- Diminished Kidney and Liver Function: The kidneys and liver are responsible for converting medicines into their active forms, and for removing excess medicine from the body. We are often not aware of changes in kidney and liver function unless the doctor orders a blood test or we develop side effects from a medicine due to its build-up in the body.
- Call the Maryland Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222 if you think you have made a medicine error or have used a product in the wrong way. Do not wait for symptoms to develop.
- Always read the label before using products and taking medicines.
- Take medicines only as prescribed by your health care provider or as directed on the over-the-counter medicine label.
- Never share your medicine with a friend or family member, and never take a medicine from a friend or family member.
- Get blood work done when your health care provider orders it.
- Keep products in their original labeled container; never in food or drink containers.
- Know the names, strengths, and uses of your medicines. It is helpful to keep a list of your medicines.
- Try to fill your prescriptions at one pharmacy so your medicine profile can be regularly reviewed for drug interactions and duplications.
- Use medicine reminders, such as daily pill minders or medicine charts.
- Tell your health care provider and pharmacist what medicines you are taking at each visit.
- Safely dispose of old and expired medicines. Do not save medicines for future use.
Please explore these additional resources to help prevent poisonings for adults and older adults. These resources are provided for informational use only.