Open Access Open Badges Research article

Fatal drug poisonings in a Swedish general population

Anna K Jönsson12*, Olav Spigset34, Micaela Tjäderborn2, Henrik Druid5 and Staffan Hägg2

Author Affiliations

1 Nordic School of Public Health, Gothenburg, Sweden

2 Division of Clinical Pharmacology, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden

3 Division of Clinical Pharmacology, St. Olav University Hospital, Trondheim, Norway

4 Department of Laboratory Medicine, Children's and Women's Health, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway

5 Department of Forensic Medicine, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden

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BMC Clinical Pharmacology 2009, 9:7  doi:10.1186/1472-6904-9-7

Published: 27 April 2009



Pharmaceutical drug poisonings have previously been reported using single sources of information, either hospital data or forensic data, which might not reveal the true incidence. We therefore aimed to estimate the incidence of suspected fatal drug poisonings, defined as poisonings by pharmaceutical agents, by using all relevant case records from various sources in a Swedish population.


Every seventh randomly selected deceased in three counties in southeastern Sweden during a one-year period was identified in the Cause of Death Register. Relevant case records (death certificates, files from hospitals and/or primary care centres and medico-legal files) were reviewed for all study subjects.


Of 1574 deceased study subjects, 12 cases were classified as pharmaceutical drug poisonings according to the death certificates and 10 according to the medico-legal files. When reviewing all available data sources, 9 subjects (0.57%; 95% confidence interval: 0.20–0.94%) were classified as drug poisonings, corresponding to an incidence of 6.5 (95% confidence interval: 2.3–10.7) per 100 000 person-years in the general population. The drug groups most often implicated were benzodiazepines (33%), antihistamines (33%) and analgesics (22%).


Fatal drug poisonings is a relatively common cause of death in Sweden. By using multiple sources of information when investigating the proportion of fatal poisonings in a population, more accurate estimates may be obtained.