Accidental poisoning is caused by exposure to an amount of a substance that harms the body. It leads to thousands of hospitalisations and more than a thousand deaths in Australia each year, and mostly involves pharmaceutical drugs. In this report, the term ‘pharmaceutical drugs’ includes those prescribed by a health practitioner and those obtained by any other means.

In 2018–19, accidental poisoning resulted in:

10,500 hospitalisations

42 per 100,000 population

 1,400 deaths

5.7 per 100,000 population

This represents 1.9% of injury hospitalisations and 11% of injury deaths.

Intentional poisoning injuries are included under Self-harm and suicide and Assault and homicide. The adverse effects of correctly prescribed and consumed drugs are not included in this report.

Substances involved in accidental poisoning hospitalisations

In 2018–19:

  • harmful exposure to pharmaceutical drugs made up 83% of accidental poisoning hospitalisations (Table 1)
  • harmful exposure to other substances, including alcohol, organic solvents and gases, comprised the other 17% (Table 2). 
Table 1: Most common pharmaceuticals attributed to accidental poisoning hospitalisations, 2018–19

Type of pharmaceutical

Number

%

Rate (per 100,000)

Antiepileptic, sedative-hypnotic, antiparkinsonism and psychotropic drugs not elsewhere classified (includes benzodiazepines and psychostimulants with potential for use disorder, such as amphetamines) (X41) 2,884 33 11.5
Other and unspecified drugs, medicaments and biological substances (includes hormones and their synthetic substitutes and antagonists, not elsewhere classified, such as insulin) (X44) 2,619 30 10.4
Narcotics and psychodysleptics (hallucinogens), not elsewhere classified (includes opioids such as codeine, morphine and heroin) (X42) 1,926 22 7.7
Non-opioid analgesics, antipyretics and antirheumatic drugs (includes non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (X40) 992 11 3.9
Other drugs acting on the autonomic nervous system (X43) 379 4 1.5

Total

8,800

100

35

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.

For more detail, see Data tables B7–8.

Table 2: Most common non-pharmaceutical substances attributed to accidental poisoning hospitalisations, 2018–19

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)

256

15

1.0

Alcohol (X45)

167

10

0.7

Organic solvents and halogenated hydrocarbons and their vapours (X46)

126

7

0.5

Pesticides (X48)

86

5

0.3

Other and unspecified chemicals and noxious substances (X49)

1,114

64

4.4

Total

1,749

100

6.9

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 detail, see Data tables B7–8.

Trends over time

The age-standardised rate of hospitalisations due to poisoning in 2018–19 was 3.4% lower than a year earlier. This is a deviation from the trend between 2009–10 to 2016–17, which exhibited an average annual increase of 1.6%.

There is a break in the time series for hospitalisations between 2016–17 and 2017–18 due to a change in data collection methods (see the Technical notes for details).

For deaths due to poisoning, the average annual increase in rate between 2009–10 and 2018–19 was 0.8% (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Accidental poisoning hospitalisations and deaths, by sex, 2009–10 to 2018–19

The visualisation features 2 matching line graphs on separate tabs, 1 for hospitalisations and 1 for deaths. The 3 lines represent the trend for males, females and persons from 2009–10 to 2018–19.The reader can select to display rate per 100,000 population or number.

For more detail, see Data tables C1–7 and E1–4.

Variation by age and sex

Accidental poisoning hospitalisation rates were similar for males and females, but the male rate of death was more than twice the rate of females. Age patterns were also markedly different between hospitalisations and deaths (Figure 2).

For accidental poisonings in 2018–19:

  • Males made up a greater proportion of both the hospitalisations (54%) and the deaths (70%) than females
  • people aged 45–64 had the highest rate of accidental poisoning deaths, (9.6 per 100,000 population)
  • young children aged 0–4 had the highest rate of accidental poisoning hospitalisation (95 per 100,000 population). (Data table A2).

Figure 2: Accidental poisoning hospitalisations and deaths, by age group and sex, 2018–19

The visualisation features 2 matching column graphs on separate tabs, 1 for hospitalisations 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 detail, see Data tables A1–3 and D1–3.

Severity of accidental poisoning injuries

There are many ways that the severity, or seriousness, of an injury could be measured. Using the available data, three measures of the severity of hospitalised injuries are:

  • number of days in hospital
  • time in an intensive care unit (ICU)
  • time on a ventilator.

The average number of days in hospital for accidental poisoning was less than the average for all injury hospitalisations, but the percentage of cases that included either time in an ICU or on continuous ventilatory support were higher than for all (Table 3).

Table 3: Severity of accidental poisoning hospitalisation cases, 2018–19

 

Accidental poisoning 

All injuries

Average number of days in hospital

2.4

4.1

% of cases with time in an ICU

8.7

2.5

% of cases involving continuous ventilatory support

5.7

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.

For more detail, see Data tables A12–13.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

In 2018–19, among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people:

  • there were over 830 hospitalisations and nearly 100 deaths due to accidental poisoning (Tables 4 and 5)
  • males were 1.1 times as likely as females to be hospitalised and 2.0 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 45–64, (Figure 3)
  • 93% of the deaths were for people between the ages of 25 and 64 (Data tables D4–6).
Table 4: Numbers and rates of accidental poisoning hospitalisation by sex, Indigenous Australians, 2018–19

 

Males

Females

Persons

Number

435

400

836

Rate (per 100,000)

104

95

100

Note: Persons includes cases where sex is intersex, indeterminate or missing.

Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database.

Table 5: Numbers and rates of accidental poisoning death by sex, Indigenous Australians, 2018–19

  Males Females Persons
Number 62 34 96
Rate (per 100,000) 16.8 9,2 13.0

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.

For more detail, see Data tables D4-5.

Indigenous and other Australians

In 2018–19, Indigenous Australians, compared with other Australians, after adjusting for differences in population age structure, were:

  • 2.8 times as likely to be hospitalised due to accidental poisoning (Table 6)
  • 3.1 times as likely to die because of accidental poisoning (Table 7).
Table 6: Age-standardised rates (per 100,000) of accidental poisoning hospitalisations by Indigenous status and sex, 2018–19

 

Males

Females

Persons

Indigenous Australians

112

106

109

Other Australians

43

35

39

Notes:
1. Rates are age-standardised to the 2001 Australian population (per 100,000).
2. 'Other 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 death by Indigenous status and sex, 2018–19

  Males Females Persons
Indigenous Australians 22.4 11.2 16.6
Non-Indigenous Australians 7.6 3.1 5.3

Notes:
1. Rates are age-standardised to the 2001 Australian population (per 100,000).
2. ‘Non-Indigenous Australians’ excludes 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.

For more detail, see Data tables D6.

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

Figure 3: Accidental poisoning hospitalisations by Indigenous status, by age group and sex, 2018–19

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 detail, see Data tables A4–6 and D4–6.

Remoteness

In 2018–19, 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 higher rates of death by accidental poisoning than those in Major cities or Outer regional areas (Table 9).

Table 8: Age-standardised rates (per 100,000) of accidental poisoning hospitalisations by remoteness and sex, 2018–19
  Males Females Persons

Major cities

43

35

39

Inner regional

42

37

40

Outer regional

53

44

48

Remote

61

64

63

Very remote

56

59

57

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 deaths by remoteness and sex, 2018–19

 

Males

Females

Persons

Major cities

8.1

3.3

5.6

Inner regional

9.4

3.8

6.5

Outer regional

7.5

3.5

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.

For more detail, see Data tables D9.

The highest age-specific rate of accidental poisoning hospitalisations 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 hospitalisations by remoteness, by age group and sex, 2018–19

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 detail, see Data tables A7–9 and D9–10.

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

More information

Defining injury hospitalisations and deaths: how injuries were counted

Technical notes: read about how the data were calculated.

Data tables: download full data tables.

Glossary