4 May 1998

Poisonings Peak In America

What was once the staple of Agatha Christie novels and Cold War assassinations has finally gone mainstream. Death through poisoning is now the third leading cause of injury-related mortality in the United States, say researchers at the National Centre for Health Statistics, citing a 25 per cent increase over the last decade. Only shootings and car crashes can boast a grimmer efficiency.

Yet armchair Poirots will find little to ponder over. Cyanide and arsenic hardly figure in the statistics, and most deaths are accidental or self-inflicted. Moreover, in what is being hailed as a sign of the times, the study reveals that 80 per cent of toxin-induced fatalities are drug-related. "Opiates and cocaine were two of the leading causes of drug-related poisoning deaths," says primary author Lois Fingerhut.

Publishing their results in the May/June 1998 issue of Public Health Reports, the researchers have found that drug-related poisoning death rates for males reached 7.2 per 100,000 in 1995 - more than twice that for females (3 per 100,000). From 1985 to 1995, rates for males aged 35-54 nearly tripled. States registering particularly high on the poison-o-meter include New Jersey, New Mexico and Georgia.