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Med J Aust. 1995 Feb 20;162(4):190-3.

Self-poisoning in Newcastle, 1987-1992.

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  • 1Discipline of Clinical Pharmacology, University of Newcastle, NSW.



To examine the morbidity and mortality associated with self-poisoning with different drug classes.


Prospective cohort study with limited follow-up. Retrospective analysis of coronial data.


Primary and tertiary referral toxicology centre covering Newcastle and Lake Macquarie, Australia, 1987-1992.


There were 1969 admissions after ingestion of 3724 substances (2424 prescription drugs and 1300 non-prescription items). The coroner investigated 83 drug-related deaths. Only 12 of these people presented to hospital and, for most of these, death was inevitable at presentation. The most frequently ingested substances were benzodiazepines, alcohol, paracetamol, antidepressants, neuroleptics and anticonvulsants. Since 1980, the percentage of self-poisonings involving benzodiazepines has fallen, while it has risen for those involving antidepressants. Over 50% of deaths were due to tricyclic antidepressants or opioid analgesics.


As death usually occurs out of hospital, interventions to decrease mortality from self-poisoning must focus on prevention, and targeting drugs that are frequently taken or frequently lethal in overdose. Consideration should be given to the use of antidepressants that are safer in overdose. The use of antidepressants, barbiturates or chloral hydrate as sedatives should be discouraged.

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