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Poison-prevention tips and what to do if exposed

Published:Monday | May 23, 2016 | 12:00 AMDr Mearle D.P. Barrett

Poison has been defined as "any substance that can cause harmful effects in the body". A more comprehensive definition is "a substance which, when introduced or absorbed by a living organism, may destroy life or injure health". Poisons are also known as toxins and can be described as toxic or hazardous substances.

Poisonings are a worldwide problem and can be either intentional or accidental. Worldwide, children are the main victims of poisoning incidents.

It is not surprising to learn that Jamaica is in line with this trend, with most accidental poisonings in children occurring in the home. Here in Jamaica, 85 per cent of poisonings occur in children.

The Caribbean Poison Information Network, through its Education Subcommittee, has formulated a set of tips to help prevent poisoning incidents.

The list includes:

• Increase public awareness and education.

• Keep all dangerous material and medicines in locked cupboards and out of the reach of children.

• Ensure safety latches and locks are placed on drawers and cupboards in which potential poisons are stored.

• Buy products in child-resistant packaging.

• Read carefully the labels on different products that have the potential to be poisons.

• Teach children not to eat or drink or touch anything before asking an adult.

• Teach children to recognise poisonous plants and avoid them.

• Do not store food and household chemicals in the same cupboard.

• Do not store dangerous products in everyday containers, such as soft drink bottles, beer bottles, drinking glasses or cups.

• Keep kitchen and food preparation areas sanitised.

• Do not refrigerate foods in the same containers that they were cooked or served in.

• Never use raw eggs that are cracked.

• Set the refrigerator temperature at 40? Fahrenheit or below. Set freezer temperature to 0? Fahrenheit or below.

• Do not give honey to babies younger than one year old.

• Thaw all frozen foods, especially meats and poultry in the refrigerator.

• Wash out lunch boxes after every use.

• Store medicines and household cleansing agents in their original containers with proper labels.

• Place medicines and other potentially harmful substances out of the reach of children.




• Stay calm.

• Remember to treat the poisoning event as an emergency.

In the case of a poison being swallowed:

• Make all attempts to identify what the person has swallowed, if it is safe to do so, and, if possible, remove the substance from the person.

• Retrieve the container, whether empty or with contents, and keep it to take to the hospital.

• Immediately take the victim to the nearest hospital for medical attention.

• Be prepared to supply the following information to the medical staff at the hospital:

1. The name of the substance swallowed and an estimate of the amount swallowed.

2. The person's estimated or actual weight and age.

3. The estimated/approximate time the poison was swallowed.

4. Whether or not the person has vomited.

5. Whether or not the person has any chronic illnesses, for example, asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure.

• In the case of the poison being inhaled:

1. Try to assess the situation and your own risk of exposure.

2. Remove the person from the contaminated area.

3. Avoid inhaling the fumes yourself.

4. Once out of the area, check to see if the person is breathing.

5. If the person is not breathing and you are trained in CPR, begin CPR immediately.

6. Call for help and immediately rush the person to the nearest medical facility.

In the case of the poisonous substance being absorbed (through the skin):

1. Assess the risk to yourself, then remove the person from the source of contamination.

2. Remove any contaminated clothing.

3. Check if the person is breathing and follow the guidelines for inhaled poison (gases).

4. Rush the victim to the nearest medical facility.

• Dr Mearle Barrett Ph D is a pharmacist, toxicologist and also the co-chair of the Caribbean Poison Information Network (CARPIN) Education Subcommittee. Email: