Emergency department visits for overdoses of acetaminophen-containing products

Am J Prev Med. 2011 Jun;40(6):585-92. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2011.02.026.


Background: Limited national data on the circumstances of acetaminophen overdoses have hindered identification and implementation of prevention strategies.

Purpose: To estimate the frequency of and characterize risks for emergency department visits for acetaminophen overdoses that were not related to abuse in the U.S.

Methods: Data were collected from two components of the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System from January 1, 2006, through December 31, 2007, and analyzed from 2009 to 2010 to estimate the annual number of emergency department visits for non-abuse-related acetaminophen overdose by patient demographics, treatments, and type and amount of acetaminophen-containing product ingested.

Results: There were an estimated 78,414 emergency department visits (95% CI=63655, 93172) annually for non-abuse-related overdoses of acetaminophen-containing products. Most emergency department visits for acetaminophen overdose were for self-directed violence (69.8%, 95% CI=66.4%, 73.2%), with the highest rate among patients aged 15-24 years (46.4 per 100,000 individuals per year). Unsupervised ingestions by children aged <6 years accounted for 13.4% (95% CI=11.0%, 15.9%) of visits for acetaminophen overdoses (42.5 per 100,000 individuals per year). Therapeutic misadventures accounted for 16.7% (95% CI=14.0%, 19.5%) of visits and most involved overuse for medicinal effects (56.1%, 95% CI=50.6%, 61.6%) rather than use of multiple acetaminophen-containing products or dose confusion.

Conclusions: Non-abuse-related overdoses of acetaminophen products lead to many emergency department visits each year, particularly emergency department visits for self-directed violence. Acetaminophen overdose prevention efforts will likely need to be multidimensional.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acetaminophen / poisoning*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Adverse Drug Reaction Reporting Systems / statistics & numerical data*
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic / poisoning*
  • Child
  • Drug Overdose
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / epidemiology
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult


  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic
  • Acetaminophen