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Unintentional Poisonings Increase in Iowa

September 4, 2009
Reinbeck Courier

Deadly combinations of prescription, illicit drugs and alcohol to blame

Unintentional poisoning is a growing problem in Iowa and deaths from it are climbing. According to a report by the University of Iowa, the number of unintentional poisoning deaths in Iowa rose from 67 in 2002 to 160 in 2008. Compared to the overall mortality rate in Iowa, which rose 1.6 percent during that period, deaths from unintentional poisoning rose 139 percent.

The unintentional poisonings are typically a result of interactions between prescription drugs, or between their interaction with alcohol or illicit drugs. The increase in deaths parallels an increase in the prescription of narcotics, muscle relaxants, and other types of sedatives. "People mistakenly think if a drug is prescribed, it's 'safer' to use than illegal drugs," said Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) Division Director Kathy Stone. "The bottom line is that all substances, prescribed or not, interact with each other and can be deadly if taken incorrectly."

The statewide trend in increased deaths mirrors a national trend. Nationally, unintentional poisoning deaths increased by 57 percent from 2002 to 2006, while Iowa saw an 85 percent increase during that period. Stone says many of these deaths are preventable:

Anyone taking a combination or medications, and who also may be using alcohol or illicit drugs, needs to be aware of the lethal potential and talk honestly with their physician or pharmacist about what they are taking and how.

The Iowa Poison Control Center has specialists trained to help manage or treat overdoses, and they should be routinely used as a resource in these cases.

For more information on the University of Iowa study, contact Dr. James Torner at (319) 384-5001. To contact the Iowa Poison Control Center, call 1-800-222-1222 or visit



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