Poisoning Attempts With OTC Drugs on the Rise Among Young Girls

An alarming new study—published recently in the medical journal Pediatrics—warns that poison-assisted suicide attempts among teens have dramatically increased over the past ten years. This behavior tends to be attributed more often to young girls and the latest data warns that the increases have been largely driven by the same cohort. 

The study, overall, assessed data taken from poison control center reports, which estimated that nearly 60,000 girls between the ages of 10 and 18 tried to poison themselves in 2018.  That is twice as many as in 2008.  This data comes out of the largest existing dataset of more than one million self-administered poisonings among people between the ages of 10 and 25, between 2000 and 2018.  Sure enough, approximately 70 percent of this cohort were female. 

Psychologist and study co-author John Ackerman advises, “They are taking what’s available to them …  All medications carry risks and benefits, even over-the-counter medications; and if it’s strong enough to help cure us, it’s strong enough to harm us.”

Now, it is important to note that suicide attempts involving poisoning (including over-the-counter medication and household chemicals, et al) are fatal in less than 5 percent of occurrences.  This means they are often the least effective. However, the growing preponderance of occurrences is what troubles health experts the most. 

Ackerman, who is also the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Center for Suicide Prevention and Research suicide prevention coordinator, goes on to advise:  “Some of the more commonly accessible medicines were able to produce some of the most serious outcomes among young people.”

As such, he argues the need for better education and intervention.  Ackerman notes, “There needs to be a developmental path for a young person to take ownership of their medication use. I’m not saying ‘lock it up’ until they’re 18, no matter what. But treat it like a driving privilege, or something that carries significant responsibility. It needs to be taught, practiced, and earned over time. Until a parent is confident that the child can manage their medication use, it should be stored and locked.”