The aim of this report is to provide information about children and young people aged 0-24 who were hospitalised as a result of poisoning by pharmaceuticals or other substances in Australia. Over 30% of all hospitalised cases of poisoning during 2012-13 involved children and young people aged 0-24 (12,451 cases).

For all types of poisoning combined, age-standardised rates were much higher for girls and young women (223 cases per 100,000 population) compared with boys and young men (109). On average, children and young people spent 2 days in hospital per episode of care, with girls aged 10-14 spending nearly 3 days on average. High threat to life (HTTL) cases were rare (fewer than 1% overall) and mainly infants (<12 months; 2% HTTL cases).

Poisoning by pharmaceuticals

There were 10,620 hospitalised cases of poisoning by pharmaceuticals in 2012-13. Rates were highest among girls aged 15-17 (589 cases per 100,000). The lowest rates were for infants (20 per 100,000) and children aged 5-9 years (9 per 100,000).

The largest group (3,935; 37%) of cases were caused by non-opioid analgesics (for example, ibuprofen and paracetamol) with 84% of the cases due to 4-Aminophenol derivatives such as paracetamol. Psychotropic drugs (for example, tricyclic and tetracyclic antidepressants, antipsychotics and neuroleptics) were the second most common (30%).

For children aged 1-4, there was a much wider range of pharmaceuticals responsible for poisoning compared with other age groups. For the 3 oldest age groups, episodes were dominated by non-opioid analgesics and psychotropic drugs. For those young people aged 10-14, 15-17 and 18-24, poisoning by non-opioid analgesics accounted for 56%, 53% and 29%, respectively, while poisoning by psychotropic drugs accounted for 21%, 27% and 36%, respectively.

Poisoning by other substances

Among children and young people, there were 1,831 hospitalised cases of poisoning by other substances in 2012-13, at a rate of 24 per 100,000 population. Poisoning by other substances occurred mainly in children aged 1-4 (23%) and young people aged 18-24 (37%). Among children aged 1-4, the rate of poisoning was higher among boys (43) compared with girls (27). The most common cause of poisoning by other substances among children and young people was contact with venomous animals (749 cases); insect bites (54%) and spider bites (22%) accounted for the majority of these envenomations.

Intentional self-harm

Almost two-thirds (63%) of poisoning cases among children and young people aged 10-24 were due to intentional self-harm, but this was more common in the older age groups examined (15‒17 and 18‒24 years). In these groups, intentional self-harm accounted for the largest proportion of hospitalised poisoning among both sexes, though the rates of intentional self-poisoning were higher among females in each age group.