Accidental poisoning is caused by exposure to an amount of a substance that harms the body. This causes thousands of hospitalisation and deaths in Australia each year, mainly involving pharmaceutical drugs or, to a lesser extent, other substances, such as alcohol and chemicals. The terms ‘pharmaceutical drugs’ and ‘pharmaceuticals’ as used in this report include both drugs prescribed by a health practitioner or obtained by other means, including illegally.

In 2017–18, 2.0% of hospitalised injury cases and 11% of injury deaths were due to accidental poisoning.

Hospitalisation cases and deaths involving intentional poisoning are included under Self-harm injuries and suicide and Assault and homicide.

In 2017–18, accidental poisoning resulted in:

10,804 hospitalisation cases

44 per 100,000 population

 1,369 deaths

5.5 per 100,000 population

This article only includes data on injuries that result in hospital admission or death. If a person dies from an injury after being admitted to hospital, both the hospitalisation and the death is included in this report. For more information, see Defining injury hospitalisation cases and injury deaths.

Which substances are involved in hospitalisations due to accidental poisoning?

In 2017–18:

  • harmful exposure to pharmaceutical drugs made up 84% of accidental poisoning hospitalisation cases (Table 1)
  • harmful exposure to other substances, including alcohol, organic solvents and gases, comprised the other 16% of accidental poisoning hospitalisation cases (Table 2). 
Table 1: Top types of pharmaceuticals chiefly responsible for injury hospitalisation cases due to accidental poisoning, 2017–18

Type of pharmaceutical

Number

%

Rate (per 100,000)

Antiepileptic, sedative-hypnotic, antiparkinsonism and psychotropic drugs not elsewhere classified (includes benzodiazapines and psychostimulants with potential for use disorder, such as amphetamines) (X41)

2,981

32.9

12.0

Other and unspecified drugs, medicaments and biological substances (includes hormones and their synthetic substitutes and antagonists, not elsewhere classified, such as insulin) (X44)

2,649

29.3

10.7

Narcotics and psychodysleptics (hallucinogens), not elsewhere classified (includes opioids such as codeine, morphine and heroin) (X42)

1,934

21.4

7.8

Non-opioid analgesics, antipyretics and antirheumatic drugs (includes non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (X40)

1,110

12.3

4.5

Other drugs acting on the autonomic nervous system (X43)

377

4.2

1.5

Total

9,051

100.0

36.5

Notes:

  1. Rates are crude per 100,000 population, calculated using estimated resident population as at 31 December of the relevant year.
  2. Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding.
  3. Codes in brackets refer to the ICD-10-AM (10th edition) external cause codes (ACCD 2017).

Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database.

Table 2: Top non-pharmaceutical substances chiefly responsible for injury hospitalisation cases due to accidental poisoning, 2017–18

Type of non-pharmaceutical substance

Number

%

Rate (per 100,000)

Other gases and vapours (not included in X46 below), such as exhaust fumes and carbon monoxide (X47)

226

12.9

0.9

Alcohol (X45)

174

9.9

0.7

Organic solvents and halogenated hydrocarbons and their vapours (X46)

126

7.2

0.5

Pesticides (X48)

82

4.7

0.3

Other and unspecified chemicals and noxious substances (X49)

1,145

65.3

4.6

Total

1,753

100.0

7.1

Notes:

  1. Rates are crude per 100,000 population, calculated using estimated resident population as at 31 December of the relevant year.
  2. Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding.
  3. Organic solvents and halogenated hydrocarbons and their vapours include aerosol and solvent-based products such as, deodorant, hair care products, laughing gas (nitrous oxide), paint, paint thinner, glue, nail polish remover, cleaning spray, felt-tip markers, mineral turpentine, methylated spirits and petrol.
  4. Codes in brackets refer to the ICD-10-AM (10th edition) external cause codes (ACCD 2017).

Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database.

For more detailed data, see Data tables B5–8.

Trends over time

Since 2008–09, there has been:

  • a 1.0% annual average increase in accidental poisoning hospitalisation rates to 2016–17
  • a 1.4% annual average increase in accidental poisoning death rates to 2017–18.

Annual average rate changes are calculated using modelled age-standardised rates (see Technical notes for more details).

Because of changes in data collection methods, hospitalisations data for 2017–18 should not be compared with those of previous years and are not included in Figure 1 (see Technical notes for more details). Death data for 2017–18 are comparable with rates for previous years.

Figure 1: Accidental poisoning injury hospitalisation cases and deaths, by age group and sex, 2008–09 to 2016–17 (hospitalisation cases) and 2008–09 to 2017–18 (deaths)

The visualisation features 2 matching line graphs on separate tabs, 1 for hospitalisation cases and 1 for deaths. The 3 lines represent the trend for males, females and persons from 2008–09 to 2016–17 for hospitalisation cases and to 2017–18 for deaths. The reader can select to display rate per 100,000 population or number, and can select by life-stage age group including all ages.

For more detailed data, see Data tables C1–4 and E1–4.

How do rates vary by age and sex?

Accidental poisoning injury hospitalisation rates were similar for males and females, but male deaths were twice the rate of female deaths. Age patterns were also markedly different between hospitalisation cases and deaths (Figure 2).

In 2017–18:

  • 54% of injury hospitalisations due to accidental poisoning were for males (5,805 cases) and 46% were for females (4,997 cases)
  • 70% of deaths due to accidental poisoning were for males (964 deaths) and 30% were for females (405 deaths)
  • the age-standardised rate of hospitalised injury due to accidental poisoning for males was 47 cases per 100,000 males, compared with 39 per 100,000 females
  • the age-standardised rate of poisoning deaths for males was 7.9 per 100,000 males, compared with 3.1 per 100,000 females
  • people aged 45–64 had the highest rates of accidental poisoning deaths, compared with other life-stage age groups (9.4 per 100,000 population)
  •  the 0–4 age group had the highest rates of hospitalisation for accidental poisoning, compared with other life-stage age groups (93 per 100,000 population). People aged 80 and over contributed considerably to the 65-and-over hospitalisation rate (Data table A2).

Figure 2: Accidental poisoning injury hospitalisation cases and deaths, by age group and sex, 2017–18

The visualisation features 2 matching column graphs on separate tabs, 1 for hospitalisation cases and 1 for deaths. The columns represent sex within 6 life-stage age groups. The reader can select to display either age-specific rate per 100,000 population or number. The default displays male and female and the reader can also select to display persons.

For more detailed data, see Data tables A1–3 and D1–3.

How severe are hospitalised injuries?

Three measures that may indicate the severity of a hospitalised injury are length of stay, percentage of cases with time in an intensive care unit (ICU), and percentage of cases involving continuous ventilator support.

The average duration of a hospital stay for injuries due to accidental poisoning was shorter than the average for all injury hospitalisations, but the percentages of cases that included either time in an ICU or on continuous ventilator support were higher than for all hospitalised injuries (Table 3).

Table 3: Severity of accidental poisoning injury hospitalisation cases, 2017–18

 

Accidental poisoning injury

All hospitalised injuries

Average number of days in hospital

2.3

3.3

% of cases with time in an ICU

8.1

2.4

% of cases involving continuous ventilator support

5.0

1.2

Note: Average number of days in hospital (length of stay) includes admissions that are transfers from 1 hospital to another or transfers from 1 admitted care type to another within the same hospital, except where care involves rehabilitation procedures.

Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

In 2017–18, among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people:

  • there were over 800 hospitalisations and 87 deaths due to accidental poisoning (Tables 4 and 5)
  • males, compared with females, were 1.3 times as likely to be hospitalised and 1.7 times as likely to die due to accidental poisoning
  • hospitalisation rates were highest among those aged 0–4 and death rates were highest among those aged 25–44, compared with other life-stage age groups (Figure 3).
Table 4: Number and rate of hospitalisation cases due to accidental poisoning by sex, Indigenous Australians, 2017–18

 

Males

Females

Persons

Number

450

361

811

Rate (per 100,000)

109

88

99

Note: Rates are crude per 100,000 population.

Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database.

Table 5: Number and rate of deaths due to accidental poisoning by sex, Indigenous Australians, 2017–18
  Males Females Persons
Number 54 33 87
Rate (per 100,000) 14.9 9.1 12.0

Notes:

  1. Rates are crude per 100,000 population.
  2. Deaths data only includes data for New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, and the Northern Territory.

Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database.

Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians

In 2017–18, Indigenous Australians, compared with non-Indigenous Australians, after adjusting for differences in population age structure, were:

  • 2.7 times as likely to be hospitalised due to accidental poisoning (Table 6)
  • 2.7 times as likely to die because of accidental poisoning (Table 7 and Figure 3).
Table 6: Age-standardised rates (per 100,000) of accidental poisoning injury hospitalisation cases by Indigenous status and sex, 2017–18

 

Males

Females

Persons

Indigenous Australians

121

96

108

Non-Indigenous Australians

45

37

41

Notes:

  1. Rates are age-standardised to the 2001 Australian population (per 100,000).
  2. Non-Indigenous Australians’ includes cases where Indigenous status is missing or not stated.

Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database.

Table 7: Age-standardised rates (per 100,000) of accidental poisoning injury deaths by Indigenous status and sex, 2017–18
  Males Females Persons
Indigenous Australians 18.1 10.7 14.3
Non-Indigenous Australians 7.7 2.8 5.2

Notes:

  1. Rates are age-standardised to the 2001 Australian population (per 100,000).
  2. ‘Non-Indigenous Australians’ includes cases where Indigenous status is missing or not stated.
  3. Deaths data only includes data for New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, and the Northern Territory.

Source: AIHW National Mortality Database.

The age-specific rate of accidental poisoning injury hospitalisation cases was highest among the 0–4 life-stage age group for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians (Figure 3). Deaths data are not presented because of small numbers.

Figure 3: Accidental poisoning injury hospitalisation cases by Indigenous status, by age group and sex, 2017–18

Column graph representing hospitalisation data for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians by 6 life-stage age groups. The reader can select to display age-specific rate per 100,000 population or number. The reader can also select to display data for persons, males or females.

For more detailed data, see Data tables A4–A6 and D4–D8.

Remoteness

In 2017–18, people living in Remote areas had the highest rate of hospitalisation by accidental poisoning and people living in Major Cities had the lowest rate. People living in Remote areas, using age-standardised rates, were 1.6 times as likely to be hospitalised due to poisoning as those living in Major cities (Table 8).

People living in Inner regional areas had the highest rate of death by accidental poisoning and people living in Major cities were least likely to die due to poisoning. People living in Inner regional areas were 1.3 times as likely to die due to poisoning as those living in Major cities (Table 9).

Table 8: Age-standardised rates (per 100,000) of accidental poisoning injury hospitalisation cases by remoteness and sex, 2017–18
  Males Females Persons

Major cities

44

37

40

Inner regional

45

37

41

Outer regional

57

47

52

Remote

76

57

67

Very remote

59

42

50

n.p. not publishable because of small numbers, confidentiality or other concerns about the quality of the data.

Note: Rates are age-standardised per 100,000 population.

Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database.

Table 9: Age-standardised rates (per 100,000) of accidental poisoning injury deaths by remoteness and sex, 2017–18

 

Males

Females

Persons

Major cities

7.3

3.1

5.2

Inner regional

9.4

3.7

6.5

Outer regional

8.6

2.5

5.5

Remote

n.p.

n.p.

n.p.

Very remote

n.p.

n.p.

n.p.

n.p. not publishable because of small numbers, confidentiality or other concerns about the quality of the data.

Note: Rates are age-standardised per 100,000 population.

Source: AIHW National Mortality Database.

The highest age-specific rate of accidental poisoning injury hospitalisation cases was among the 0–4 life-stage age group living in Remote areas of Australia. (Figure 4).

Deaths data are not presented because of small numbers.

Figure 4: Accidental poisoning injury hospitalisation cases by remoteness, by age group and sex, 2017–18

Column graph representing hospitalisation data for each of the 5 remoteness categories by 6 life-stage age groups. The reader can select to display age-specific rate per 100,000 population or number. The reader can also select to display data for persons, males or females.

For more detailed data, see Data tables A7–A9 and D9–10.

For information on how statistics by remoteness are calculated, see Technical notes.

More information

Technical notes—read about how the data were calculated.

Data tables—download full data tables.

Glossary
 

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