Active surveillance of abused and misused prescription opioids using poison center data: a pilot study and descriptive comparison

Clin Toxicol (Phila). 2007;45(2):144-51. doi: 10.1080/15563650600981137.


Background: Prescription opioids are abused throughout the United States. Several monitoring programs are in existence, however, none of these systems provide up-to-date information on prescription opioid abuse. This article describes the use of poison centers as a real-time, geographically specific, surveillance system for prescription opioid abuse and compares our system with an existing prescription drug abuse monitoring program, the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN).

Methods: Data were collected from eight geographically dispersed poison centers for a period of twelve months. Any call involving buprenorphine, fentanyl, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, methadone, morphine, and oxycodone was considered a case. Any case coded as intentional exposure (abuse, intentional misuse, suicide, or intentional unknown) was regarded as misuse and abuse. Comparative data were obtained from DAWN.

Results: Poison center rates of abuse and misuse were highest for hydrocodone at 3.75 per 100,000 population, followed by oxycodone at 1.81 per 100,000 population. DAWN emergency department (ED) data illustrate a similar pattern of abuse with most mentions involving hydrocodone and oxycodone. Poison center data indicate that people aged 18 to 25 had the highest rates of abuse. DAWN reported the majority of ED mentions among 35 to 44-year-olds. Geographically, Kentucky had the uppermost rates of abuse and misuse for all opioids combined at 20.69 per 100,000 population. CONCLUSIONS. Comparing poison center data to DAWN yielded mostly comparable results, including hydrocodone as the most commonly mentioned drug. Our results suggest poison center data can be used as an indicator for prescription opioid abuse and misuse and can provide timely, geographically specific information on prescription drug abuse.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Opioid / poisoning*
  • Drug Prescriptions*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pilot Projects
  • Poison Control Centers*
  • Population Surveillance*
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / epidemiology
  • United States


  • Analgesics, Opioid