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Keywords:

  • acetaminophen;
  • Australia;
  • overdose;
  • Victoria

Abstract

Background and Aim

Paracetamol is the most frequently used analgesic in Australia and can be purchased without a prescription. We aimed to investigate the epidemiology and outcome of paracetamol overdoses occurring in Victoria, Australia.

Methods

The Victorian admitted episode dataset was examined for all patients who had a diagnosis of paracetamol poisoning (International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, Tenth Revision, Australian Modification [ICD-10-AM]: T39.1) or paracetamol adverse effect in therapeutic use (Y45.5) from July 1, 2000 to June 30, 2007. Data extracted included all ICD-10 codes related to their admissions, gender, age range, date of admission, and cause of death (if applicable).

Results

Over 7 years, there was a total of 14 662 hospital admissions for paracetamol overdose with a mean of 2095 cases per year. Accidental overdoses comprised 15% (n = 2149) of cases. The overdose rate fell from 46 cases per 100 000 in 2001 to 39 cases per 100 000 in 2006 (P < 0.001). Most overdoses occurred in women (71%), and patients between 15 and 50 years old comprised 78% of all cases. Complications and mortality were relatively uncommon, with only 26 deaths directly attributable to paracetamol overdose over the 7 years. No child under 15 years old died from their overdose.

Conclusion

Admission to Victorian hospitals with paracetamol overdose presents an enormous and in many cases preventable health-care burden. Fortunately, there has been a gradual fall in admissions, and most cases appear relatively benign. Further reductions in overdose could be achieved with increased awareness by physicians and the general public regarding the potential for accidental overdose, and increasing funding for mental health initiatives.