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Study: One-third of poison center calls blamed on medication errors :

January 13, 2016

Most calls to poison centers for infants 6 months and younger involved unintentional poisoning, and more than one-third were related to medication errors, according to a new study.

“A potential intervention can be early parental education about the availability of (poison control centers) as a resource for medical guidance, perhaps beginning at discharge from the nursery, along with frequent reinforcement,” researchers said in the study “U.S. Poison Control Center Calls for Infants 6 Months of Age and Younger” (Kang AM, Brooks DE. Pediatrics. Jan. 13, 2016,

They looked at 10 years of data from the National Poison Data System and found that 96.7% of the 271,513 poison exposures reported for this age group were unintentional.

Just over half were deemed “general unintentional” — the default category for poison center calls, which can include exploratory ingestions. The most common substances in this area included diaper care and rash products, acetaminophen and gastrointestinal (GI) preparations, according to the study.

“Ultimately, these general unintentional exposures appear frequent enough in this young age group that early poison prevention education may be considered,” researchers said.

Another 36.7% of the poison exposures were attributed to therapeutic error, most commonly involving acetaminophen, H2 blockers or GI preparation substances. Of these types of calls, 47% involved errors in the quantity of medication the infants were given. Another 42.8% involved errors like infants being given the wrong medication or the medication being given too soon after a previous dose.

Most of the calls did not result in a referral to a health care facility, but there were 73 deaths. Ethanol, acetaminophen, amphetamines and cocaine were among the substances causing the greatest harm in the general unintentional category.

Combination cough/cold products, GI preparation, acetaminophen and methadone caused the worst effects due to therapeutic error.

Researchers also noted a growing number of exposures to ibuprofen despite the Academy saying in a 2011 policy that there are not enough data to recommend its use in infants under 6 months.

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