Source: CDC

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention—within its National Center for Injury Prevention and Control—has articulated a definition of what a poison is and has compiled information specifically about "Poisoning in the United States".


A poison is any substance that is harmful to your body when ingested (eaten), inhaled (breathed), injected, or absorbed through the skin. Any substance can be poisonous if enough is taken. This definition does not include adverse reactions to medications taken correctly.

Poisonings are either intentional or unintentional. If the person taking or giving a substance did not mean to cause harm, then it is an unintentional poisoning. Unintentional poisoning includes the use of drugs or chemicals for recreational purposes in excessive amounts, such as an overdose. It also includes the excessive use of drugs or chemicals for nonrecreational purposes, such as by a toddler. Intentional poisoning is the result of a person taking or giving a substance with the intention of causing harm. Suicide and assault by poisoning fall into this category. When the distinction between intentional and unintentional is unclear, poisonings are usually labeled undetermined in intent.

Information about both lead and carbon monoxide poisoning can be found on other CDC web pages; see sources of additional information for the relevant websites. Statistics below include poisoning from all substances, including lead and carbon monoxide.



  • In 2005, 23,618 (72%) of the 32,691 poisoning deaths in the United States were unintentional, and 3,240 (10%) were of undetermined intent [1](CDC 2008). Unintentional poisoning death rates have been rising steadily since 1992.
  • Unintentional poisoning was second only to motor vehicle crashes as a cause of unintentional injury death in 2005 (CDC 2008). Among people 35 to 54 years old, unintentional poisoning caused more deaths than motor vehicle crashes.
  • In 2006, unintentional poisoning caused about 703,702 emergency department (ED) visits (CDC 2008).
  • Almost 25% of these unintentional ED visits resulted in hospitalization or transfer to another facility (CDC 2008).
  • In 2006, poison control centers reported about two million unintentional poisoning or poison exposure cases [2](Bronstein et al. 2007).


  • In the United States in 2005, 5,833 (18%) of the 32,691 poisoning deaths were intentional; 5,744 were suicides and 89 were homicides (CDC 2008).
  • In 2006, intentional poisoning led to about 220,924 emergency department (ED) visits; 216,358 involved self-harm and 3,982 were assaults (CDC 2008).
    • Among the self-harm poisoning ED visits, 162,096 (75%) resulted in hospitalization or transfer to another facility.
  • Self-harm poisoning was the second-leading cause of ED visits for intentional injury in 2006 (CDC 2008).
  • That same year, poison control centers reported 198,578 cases where the reason for poison exposure was a suspected suicide attempt (Bronstein et al. 2007).

Most common poisons


  • In 2004, 95% of unintentional and undetermined poisoning deaths were caused by drugs [3](WONDER 2007). Opioid pain medications were most commonly involved, followed by cocaine and heroin [4](Paulozzi et al. 2006).
  • Among those treated in EDs for nonfatal poisonings involving intentional, nonmedical use (such as misuse or abuse) of prescription or over-the-counter drugs in 2004, opioid pain medications and benzodiazepines were used most frequently[5](SAMHSA 2006).


  • In 2004, 75% of poisoning suicides were caused by drugs—both legal and illegal. The most commonly used drugs identified in drug-related suicides were psychoactive drugs, such as sedatives and antidepressants, followed by opiates and prescription pain medications (WONDER 2007).
  • Most (93%) nonfatal, poison-related suicide attempts involved pharmaceuticals. Among the 132,582 drug-related suicide attempts in the United States in 2005, sedatives and hypnotics, pain medications, and antidepressants were the most common drugs taken. Among pain medications, opioids were the most widely used, while benzodiazepines were the most common sedatives (SAMHSA 2007).


  • In 2000, poisonings led to $26 billion in medical expenses and made up 6% of the economic costs of all injuries in the United States.
  • Males accounted for 75% of the total costs of poisoning injuries ($19 billion).
  • Females accounted for 25% of the total costs of poisoning injuries (almost $7 billion) [6](Finkelstein et al. 2006).

Groups at Risk


Among those who died from unintentional poisoning in 2005:

  • men were 2.1 times more likely than women;
  • Native Americans had the highest death rate;
  • whites and blacks had comparable rates;
  • the peak age was 45-49 years of age; and
  • the lowest mortality rates were among children less than 15 years old (CDC 2008).

Among people who unintentionally poisoned themselves, received treatment in emergency departments and survived in 2006:

  • men were 1.5 times more likely than women;
  • the highest rates were in the 40-49 year old age group (CDC 2008).


Among those who committed suicide by poisoning in 2005:

  • men were 1.3 times more likely than women;
  • whites were 3.6 times more likely than blacks; and
  • the peak age was 45-49 years old (CDC 2008).

Among those who intentionally harmed themselves with poison, received treatment in emergency departments, and survived in 2006:

  • women were 1.6 times more likely than men; and
  • the peak age was 15-19 years old, with a secondary peak in the 40-44 age group (CDC 2008).

Sources of Additional Information



  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unintentional and undetermined poisoning deaths—11 states, 1990-2001. MMWR 2004; 53: 233-8.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nonfatal, unintentional medication exposures among young children---United States, 2001-2003. MMWR 2006; 55: 1-5.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unintentional poisoning deaths---United States, 1999-2004. MMWR 2007; 56: 93-96.


  1. ^Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [online]. (2008) [cited 2008 Feb 19].
  2. ^Bronstein AC, Spyker DA, Cantilena LR, Green G, Rumack BH, Heard SE. 2006 Annual Report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers. National Poison Data System (NPDS). Clinical Toxicology 2007;45:815-917.
  3. ^Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Wide-ranging OnLine Data for Epidemiologic Research (WONDER) [online]. (2007) [cited 2008 Feb 19].
  4. ^Paulozzi LJ, Budnitz DS, Xi Y. Increasing deaths from opioid analgesics in the United States. Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety 2006;15:618-27.
  5. ^Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Office of Applied Studies. Drug Abuse Warning Network, 2005: national estimates of drug-related emergency department visits. DAWN Series D-29, DHHS Publication No. (SMA) 07-4256. Rockville, MD, 2007.
  6. ^Finkelstein E, Corso P, Miller T. The incidence and economic costs of injury in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press; 2006.

Page last modified: March 13, 2008


* Links to non-Federal organizations found at this site are provided solely as a service to our users. These links do not constitute an endorsement of these organizations or their programs by CDC or the Federal Government, and none should be inferred. CDC is not responsible for the content of the individual organization Web pages found at these links.



(2008). Poison. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/51cbeea47896bb431f69950d


To add a comment, please Log In.