What Poisons Kill the Most People Today?

Updated April 5, 2017 | Infoplease Staff

liquid poison in glass containers

By Logan Chamberlain

Poisons, per the Center for Disease Control, are the leading cause of injury death (sudden death not by disease or deprivation) in the United States. Although everyone has a general understanding of what poison is, it’s useful here to get a more clinical definition: poison generally is “a substance that inhibits the activity of another substance or the course of a reaction or process”. So a poison is not just substances like venom or lead. Prescription and non-prescription drugs can also qualify as poisons in this context.

Opioid Analgesics

Drugs make up the biggest share of US poison deaths. Of those drugs, prescription and not, the largest known share of deaths are attributable to opioid analgesics (painkillers). Although the most infamously dangerous opiate substance is Heroin, regularly prescribed painkillers like Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, Morphine, Fentanyl, and Methadone are all responsible for deaths when abused.

Other Dangerous Drugs

Sedatives, Antidepressants, and Cardiovascular medicine are all contributors to deaths by prescription drug abuse on a national level. Alcohol, which can be deadly on its own when treated irresponsibly, exacerbates problems with these other drugs and when taken in conjunction are a significantly increased risk.

Other Leading Poisons in the US

The next most common poison, taken in either deliberately or on accident, is cleaning products. Many cleaning products that are either very acidic or very basic can prove deadly when ingested even in small doses. These are especially dangerous to small children, who often lack the awareness needed to minimize risks.

Global Concerns

Although it is more difficult to compile statistics transnationally, the World Health Organization identifies two significant sources of poisoning across the globe that are often underrepresented in the media. The first of these is pesticides; when ingested in large quantities, pesticides can lead to serious illness and death. This is a particular concern in large agricultural regions where reckless pesticide use can expose the population to unhealthy doses. The second source is envenomation, primarily by snake bites. The WHO claims that upwards of 100,000 people will likely die of snake bites each year, and about triple that will experience amputations or long-term disability.

What to Do

If you or someone you know have been poisoned, you should immediately get help—this is especially true if you have children who have ingested dangerous substances. If you live in the United States you can call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 or go to their website. If you live outside of the United States, you should research your local services to handle poisoning and make sure you can contact them in an emergency.