Antidotes for toxicological emergencies: a practical review

Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2012 Feb 1;69(3):199-212. doi: 10.2146/ajhp110014.


Purpose: Appropriate therapies for commonly encountered poisonings, medication overdoses, and other toxicological emergencies are reviewed, with discussion of pharmacists' role in ensuring their ready availability and proper use.

Summary: Poisoning is the second leading cause of injury-related morbidity and mortality in the United States, with more than 2.4 million toxic exposures reported each year. Recently published national consensus guidelines recommend that hospitals providing emergency care routinely stock 24 antidotes for a wide range of toxicities, including toxic-alcohol poisoning, exposure to cyanide and other industrial agents, and intentional or unintentional overdoses of prescription medications (e.g., calcium-channel blockers, β-blockers, digoxin, isoniazid). Pharmacists can help reduce morbidity and mortality due to poisonings and overdoses by (1) recognizing the signs and symptoms of various types of toxic exposure, (2) guiding emergency room staff on the appropriate use of antidotes and supportive therapies, (3) helping to ensure appropriate monitoring of patients for antidote response and adverse effects, and (4) managing the procurement and stocking of antidotes to ensure their timely availability.

Conclusion: Pharmacists can play a key role in reducing poisoning and overdose injuries and deaths by assisting in the early recognition of toxic exposures and guiding emergency personnel on the proper storage, selection, and use of antidotal therapies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antidotes / supply & distribution
  • Antidotes / therapeutic use*
  • Drug Overdose
  • Drug Storage
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / organization & administration
  • Humans
  • Pharmacists / organization & administration*
  • Pharmacy Service, Hospital / organization & administration
  • Poisoning / drug therapy*
  • Poisoning / etiology
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Professional Role
  • United States


  • Antidotes