Search tips
Search criteria 


Logo of archemedLink to Publisher's site
Arch Emerg Med. 1992 June; 9(2): 214–219.
PMCID: PMC1285863

Toxicity awareness and unintended suicide in drug overdoses.


The objective of this paper is to determine patients awareness of the toxicity of the drugs they overdose with, the source of these drugs, and whether they would have taken them had they been fully aware of their toxicity, and to examine the implications for prevention. A prospective review of one hundred consecutive overdoses admitted through an A&E department was carried out. Awareness was scored by a ranking questionnaire and intent by response to a standard question when toxicity was explained. Paracetamol was most the most frequently taken drug (39 cases). Overall awareness of toxicity was low. Twenty-eight patients (30%) said they would not have overdosed if they had been aware of the toxicity of what they had taken. Forty-nine per cent of patients took someone elses tablets. There is a rise in analgesic poisoning from 1976. Higher toxicity awareness may reduce the incidence of drug overdose. Smaller prescriptions and over the counter preparations especially paracetamol and limited access to toxic drugs, especially in high-risk homes, should reduce both the number and severity of overdoses. It is possible that a number of deaths from deliberate drug overdose may be unintentional as 30% of survivors in this study did not intend the toxic effects of the drug taken.

Full text

Full text is available as a scanned copy of the original print version. Get a printable copy (PDF file) of the complete article (568K), or click on a page image below to browse page by page. Links to PubMed are also available for Selected References.

Selected References

These references are in PubMed. This may not be the complete list of references from this article.
  • Bancroft J, Hawton K, Simkin S, Kingston B, Cumming C, Whitwell D. The reasons people give for taking overdoses: a further inquiry. Br J Med Psychol. 1979 Dec;52(4):353–365. [PubMed]
  • Beck AT, Beck R, Kovacs M. Classification of suicidal behaviors: I. Quantifying intent and medical lethality. Am J Psychiatry. 1975 Mar;132(3):285–287. [PubMed]
  • Crockett AW. Patterns of consultation and parasuicide. Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1987 Aug 22;295(6596):476–478. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Forster DP, Frost CE. Medicinal self-poisoning and prescription frequency. Acta Psychiatr Scand. 1985 Jun;71(6):567–574. [PubMed]
  • Hadden DS. Drug overdosage: a study at the accident and emergency department of the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast. Ulster Med J. 1978;47(2):165–170. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Hawton K, Cole D, O'Grady J, Osborn M. Motivational aspects of deliberate self-poisoning in adolescents. Br J Psychiatry. 1982 Sep;141:286–291. [PubMed]
  • Kessel N. Patients who take overdoses. Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1985 May 4;290(6478):1297–1298. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • McMurray JJ, Northridge DB, Abernethy VA, Lawson AA. Trends in analgesic self-poisoning in West-Fife, 1971-1985. Q J Med. 1987 Oct;65(246):835–843. [PubMed]
  • Murphy GE. Recognition of suicidal risk: the physician's responsibility. South Med J. 1969 Jun;62(6):723–728. [PubMed]
  • Osselton MD, Blackmore RC, King LA, Moffat AC. Poisoning-associated deaths for England and Wales between 1973 and 1980. Hum Toxicol. 1984 Jun;3(3):201–221. [PubMed]
  • Platt S, Hawton K, Kreitman N, Fagg J, Foster J. Recent clinical and epidemiological trends in parasuicide in Edinburgh and Oxford: a tale of two cities. Psychol Med. 1988 May;18(2):405–418. [PubMed]

Articles from Archives of Emergency Medicine are provided here courtesy of BMJ Publishing Group