Poisoning: The Second Leading Cause of Injury-Related Death in the United States

The Committee estimates that in 2001 (the most recent year for which data from all sources were available), there were 30,800 poisoning-related deaths in the United States (based on published figures and specially provided estimates from Lois Fingerhut at the National Center for Health Statistics, 2003). This estimate makes poisoning the second leading cause of injury-related death in the United States, behind motor vehicle deaths (N = 42,443) and ahead of gun-related deaths (N = 29,573). Our estimate is higher than that usually reported because it combines (1) the number of deaths in which poisoning is the reported underlying cause, along with (2) deaths in which alcohol or illicit drugs of abuse are the reported underlying cause. The Committee believes that including the alcohol and illicit drug deaths in its estimate is justified because these poisonings come to the attention of the poison control centers and because the revisions of the coding systems seem to be moving toward the inclusion of these cases.

Poisoning Morbidity

As measures of morbidity, the Committee examined poison-related hospitalizations and overall exposures. Again, each of these estimates has its own unique definitional limitations, but the numbers presented in Table 1-1 are a way of showing the order of magnitude of poisoning as a cause of morbidity and health care system use. In 2001, there were 282,012 hospitalizations, as reported through the National Hospital Discharge Data Set, and more than 2.3 million human poison exposures (includes both actual and suspected exposures), as reported to TESS (Watson et al., 2003) by the poison control centers. It should be pointed out that TESS human exposure reports include both actual and suspected exposures to poisonous substances of all types. If anything, these are likely to be underestimates of true death and hospitalization numbers.

TABLE 1-1 Summary of Poisoning Mortality and Morbidity (2001)

Level of Poisoning Severity

Number of Deaths

Poison-related deaths


Underlying cause


Alcohol and drugs


Number of poison-related discharges from short-stay hospitals


Human exposure calls to poison control centers


The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement