Fatal poisoning in childhood, England & Wales 1968-2000

Forensic Sci Int. 2005 Mar 10;148(2-3):121-9. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2004.04.083.


We analysed deaths certified as due to poisoning in England & Wales, 1968-2000, in children aged <10 years by age, sex, circumstances of death, intent, and agents involved. The number of deaths fell from 165 (20.6 per million children) in 1968 to 30 (4.6 per million) in 2000, a decrease of approximately 80%. The age-specific death rates were similar in boys and girls. The rate was initially much higher, and fell more, in those aged <5 years. Most deaths (n=1923) occurred in fires, and had been attributed to inhaling combustion products. A small number (n=104) occurred in fires resulting from motor vehicle and other transport accidents. From 1979 (use of ICD-9) the coding of some of these deaths changed from poisoning with carbon monoxide to poisoning with 'other gases, fumes or vapours'. These 'fire deaths' do not appear as poisonings in mortality statistics based on a single underlying cause of death, and cannot be tabulated as poisoning in many countries. Fire deaths and deaths coded to accidental, deliberate, or undetermined poisoning (n=702) decreased substantially with time, and by 2000 numbered 14 and 10, respectively. Accidental deaths declined from 151 in 1968 to 23 in 2000, but homicides and open verdicts varied from 5 to 20 per year, with no clear trend. Deaths attributed to carbon monoxide and to 'other gases, fumes or vapours' (mostly fire-related) totalled 2431 (84% of all poisoning deaths). Overall, 10% of these deaths were either certified as homicides or open verdicts. However, homicide or open verdict was recorded in half of the 47 fatal opiate poisonings. Opioids have now superseded antidepressants as the commonest agents encountered in fatal poisoning with drugs in children.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents / statistics & numerical data
  • Age Distribution
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Databases as Topic
  • Death Certificates
  • England / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Fires
  • Forensic Medicine
  • Homicide / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Mortality / trends
  • Narcotics / poisoning
  • Poisoning / mortality*
  • Sex Distribution
  • Wales / epidemiology


  • Narcotics