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J Med Toxicol. 2012 Jun;8(2):94-100. doi: 10.1007/s13181-011-0191-1.

Analysis and validation of putative substances involved in fatal poisonings.

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New Jersey Poison Information and Education System, Department of Preventive Medicine and Community Health, UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School, Newark, NJ, USA.


Each year, poison control centers throughout the United States respond to over 4 million calls for help in treating individuals exposed to toxic substances. Although most cases develop no or minimal clinical effects, a small proportion of patients who receive medical care for overdoses with poison center consultation expire. When such cases are investigated by a medical examiner, the postmortem toxicology results may show substances other than those considered in the consultation with the poison center. We sought to determine the characteristics of discordance in fatal cases between the toxic substances reported to a regional poison control center and postmortem toxicology results. We conducted a retrospective study of the New Jersey regional poison control center records of all fatal cases between the years 1986 and 2006. Substances reported as putative agents to the poison center were compared to the postmortem toxicology results obtained by the medical examiner. The frequencies and characteristics surrounding discordance were examined. Of the 708 fatal cases reported to our poison center within the study period, complete postmortem toxicological evaluations were available for 206 (29.0%). Comparison of putative agents between information obtained by history and at postmortem evaluation showed discordance in 41 (19.9%). In a substantial number of fatal cases receiving poison center consultation, substances were found at the time of postmortem examination that were not considered in the poison center consultation. The reasons for this discordance may include a lack of thorough history-taking or a cognitive bias to the substances initially reported.

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