Background: Intoxication (or poisoning) that necessitates hospitalization remains an important source of morbidity in children.
Objective: To determine changes, during an 11-year period (1987-1997), in the incidence of hospitalization due to intoxication among children in Washington State and circumstances of ingestion, agents used, hospital length of stay, charges, and mortality.
Methods: A computerized database of all hospital discharges (Comprehensive Hospital Abstract Reporting System [CHARS] database) in Washington was used. Cases included all children younger than 19 years with a primary or secondary diagnosis for an intoxication or with an external cause of injury code (E code) for an intoxication from 1987 to 1997.
Results: There were 7322 hospitalizations (45 per 100 000 children per year); the annual rate significantly decreased during the study period. Most patients (75%) were teenagers. Sixty-five percent were female. Pharmaceutical agents were used in 80% of cases. Analgesics were the most commonly used (34%), followed by antidepressants (12%) and psychotropic drugs (8%). Nonpharmaceutical agents were more prevalent in children younger than 12 years than in teenagers. Self-inflicted intoxication was the most frequent cause identified by E codes (47%). Median length of stay was 1 day, and median hospital charges were $2096. Mortality was low (0.2%) and did not change significantly over time.
Conclusions: Acute intoxication continues to be an important cause of hospitalization in children. The type of agent involved did not change significantly over time. Teenage girls continue as the highest risk group for suicide attempt from ingestions. Self-inflicted intoxications were associated with higher costs, length of stay, and readmissions. Although preventive measures and development of poison centers have contributed to decrease mortality from acute intoxication in children in the last 50 years, efforts need to be targeted toward suicide prevention, especially among teenage girls.