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A week ago I posted about the tragic death of 4-year-old Rebecca Toone from exposure to fumes from poison pellets installed outside her home to kill rodents. The tragedy deepened as the Toone family also lost their 15-month-old daughter Rachel to the same poison exposure a short time later. Now, a recent report released by the Utah Department of Health highlights a grim reality for the state: Utahns die of poisonings at twice the national rate. The national rate is 11 deaths per 100,000 people and the Utah rate is 21.3 deaths per 100,000 people for the study period.

The report identifies the most common poison culprits to be personal care products, household cleaning products, cosmetics and analgesics. Pesticides are now on the top 10 list as well. The particular reported demographics are:

  • Salt Lake County has the highest death rates and Summit County has the lowest.
  • People aged 45 to 54 have the highest death rates.
  • Between 1997 and 2007, prescription pain medication deaths rose by more than 500 percent.
  • Prescription drug overdose deaths are three times more likely than illicit drug overdose deaths.
  • Utah ranks fourth in the nation for nonmedical use of pain relievers.

According to an archived article which appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune last April, Utah has taken steps to address the prescription drug problem that has swept the state. The Utah Pharmaceutical Drug Crime Project, a task force comprised of local police, federal agents and health workers, was formed to better communicate with one another to stop the selling, buying or stealing of prescription drugs and to educate the public on the dangers of painkilling medication. With luck, this group has made a dent in the problem since its formation but since it is a given that overdoses will continue at some level, it is important to be up to speed on what to do if you have an opportunity to intervene and help yourself or someone that is in trouble.

Of course, if you are faced with a life threatening situation, immediately call 911 and follow all instructions that you are given. But if you encounter a less dire situation, information may be your best friend. The University of Utah operates the Utah Poison Control Center which offers a wealth of information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, that is also available to the hearing impaired as well as non-english speaking patrons. The American Association of Poison Control Centers is an excellent resource if you are somewhere other than Utah when you need assistance. The bottom line is that we all need to be educated on the perils of the various poisons we may encounter and know what to do when we encounter them.

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