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J Med Toxicol. 2007 Sep;3(3):100-2.

The feasibility of administration of activated charcoal with respect to current practice guidelines in emergency department patients.

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Banner Good Samaritan Regional Poison Center. <>



The American Academy of Clinical Toxicology, European Association of Poisons Centres, and Clinical Toxicologists recommend administration of activated charcoal (AC) within one-hour of an acute toxic ingestion [1]. Our poison control center periodically and upon request faxes an abbreviated protocol to hospital emergency departments, reminding physicians of these current AC recommendations. This study was conducted to describe how often patients present within the one-hour time frame and how often the guidelines in the above position statement are being followed.


Following a brief training of systematic chart review, reviewers blinded to the purpose of the study completed a standardized data collection sheet. Three years after publication of these consensus statements, a period of 3 consecutive years of poison center patient encounters were reviewed. Recorded data included age, outcomes, and time to administration of charcoal.


Approximately 150,000 reported toxic exposures were reviewed, of which 16,914 patients of acute ingestions presented to a health care facility. The mean age of the group that presented was 25 years [range 1 month-87 years]. A total of 2,700 (16%) patients that presented were within 60 minutes of an acute overdose and all were administered AC in accordance with the recommended guidelines. Interestingly, pre-hospital personnel administered AC within 60 minutes to 762 (28% of 2,700) patients. Correspondingly, 14,214 (84%) patients presented more than 60 minutes after an acute overdose. Of this latter group AC was withheld in 341 (2.4% of 14,214) patients, and 13,873 (97.6% of 14,214) patients received charcoal despite having arrived more than 60 minutes after ingestion. The mean time to the first administration of AC in this latter group was 225 minutes [range of 61-2160 minutes] following ingestion.


Only a small percentage of patients treated for an acute overdose (16%) present within 60 minutes and are given charcoal according to the current guidelines. A large subset of these patients (28%) is given AC in a pre-hospital setting. Few patients presenting to a health care provider after an acute toxic ingestion are treated in accordance with the current recommendations for activated charcoal.

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