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Open Access Research article

Fatal poisonings in Oslo: a one-year observational study

Mari A Bjornaas1*, Brita Teige2, Knut E Hovda1, Oivind Ekeberg1, Fridtjof Heyerdahl1 and Dag Jacobsen1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Acute Medicine, Oslo University Hospital Ulleval, Kirkeveien 166, N-0407 Oslo, Norway

2 Institute of Forensic Medicine, University of Oslo, Gaustadalléen 30, N-0027 Oslo, Norway

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BMC Emergency Medicine 2010, 10:13  doi:10.1186/1471-227X-10-13

Published: 6 June 2010

Abstract

Background

Acute poisonings are common and are treated at different levels of the health care system. Since most fatal poisonings occur outside hospital, these must be included when studying characteristics of such deaths. The pattern of toxic agents differs between fatal and non-fatal poisonings. By including all poisoning episodes, cause-fatality rates can be calculated.

Methods

Fatal and non-fatal acute poisonings in subjects aged ≥16 years in Oslo (428 198 inhabitants) were included consecutively in an observational multi-centre study including the ambulance services, the Oslo Emergency Ward (outpatient clinic), and hospitals, as well as medico-legal autopsies from 1st April 2003 to 31st March 2004. Characteristics of fatal poisonings were examined, and a comparison of toxic agents was made between fatal and non-fatal acute poisoning.

Results

In Oslo, during the one-year period studied, 103 subjects aged ≥16 years died of acute poisoning. The annual mortality rate was 24 per 100 000. The male-female ratio was 2:1, and the mean age was 44 years (range 19-86 years). In 92 cases (89%), death occurred outside hospital. The main toxic agents were opiates or opioids (65% of cases), followed by ethanol (9%), tricyclic anti-depressants (TCAs) (4%), benzodiazepines (4%), and zopiclone (4%). Seventy-one (69%) were evaluated as accidental deaths and 32 (31%) as suicides. In 70% of all cases, and in 34% of suicides, the deceased was classified as drug or alcohol dependent. When compared with the 2981 non-fatal acute poisonings registered during the study period, the case fatality rate was 3% (95% C.I., 0.03-0.04). Methanol, TCAs, and antihistamines had the highest case fatality rates; 33% (95% C.I., 0.008-0.91), 14% (95% C.I., 0.04-0.33), and 10% (95% C.I., 0.02-0.27), respectively.

Conclusions

Three per cent of all acute poisonings were fatal, and nine out of ten deaths by acute poisonings occurred outside hospital. Two-thirds were evaluated as accidental deaths. Although case fatality rates were highest for methanol, TCAs, and antihistamines, most deaths were caused by opiates or opioids.