J Am Med Inform Assoc 18:225-231 doi:10.1136/jamia.2010.004317
  • Research and applications

Can poison control data be used for pharmaceutical poisoning surveillance?

  1. Heather T Keenan
  1. The Intermountain Injury Control Research Center, Department of Pediatrics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Christopher A Naun, Intermountain Injury Control Research Center, 295 Chipeta Way, SLC, UT 84158, USA; christopher.naun{at}
  • Received 2 April 2010
  • Accepted 13 December 2010
  • Published Online First 21 March 2011


Objective To determine the association between the frequencies of pharmaceutical exposures reported to a poison control center (PCC) and those seen in the emergency department (ED).

Design A statewide population-based retrospective comparison of frequencies of ED pharmaceutical poisonings with frequencies of pharmaceutical exposures reported to a regional PCC. ED poisonings, identified by International Classification of Diseases, Version 9 (ICD-9) codes, were grouped into substance categories. Using a reproducible algorithm facilitated by probabilistic linkage, codes from the PCC classification system were mapped into the same categories. A readily identifiable subset of PCC calls was selected for comparison.

Measurements Correlations between frequencies of quarterly exposures by substance categories were calculated using Pearson correlation coefficients and partial correlation coefficients with adjustment for seasonality.

Results PCC reported exposures correlated with ED poisonings in nine of 10 categories. Partial correlation coefficients (rp) indicated strong associations (rp>0.8) for three substance categories that underwent large changes in their incidences (opiates, benzodiazepines, and muscle relaxants). Six substance categories were moderately correlated (rp>0.6). One category, salicylates, showed no association.

Limitations Imperfect overlap between ICD-9 and PCC codes may have led to miscategorization. Substances without changes in exposure frequency have inadequate variability to detect association using this method.

Conclusion PCC data are able to effectively identify trends in poisonings seen in EDs and may be useful as part of a pharmaceutical poisoning surveillance system. The authors developed an algorithm-driven technique for mapping American Association of Poison Control Centers codes to ICD-9 codes and identified a useful subset of poison control exposures for analysis.


  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval This study was conducted with the approval of the University of Utah.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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