Poisoning can happen in many ways, through various routes, and it can be accidental or intentional, as in the case of suicide. Below are the ways we can be poisoned:
1. Ingestion – by eating or drinking something
2. Contact – splashing or spilling something on the skin or in the eyes
3. Inhalation – breathing dangerous fumes
4. Injection – bites or stings from insects, snakes, spiders or sea life.
First, let’s address poisoning by ingestion where the victim intentionally takes medication. This is often a mistake, where they accidentally took too much of their prescribed medication or even a pharmacy error, but this can also be an attempted suicide.
In either case, this can be deadly. According to the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, deaths from drug overdose have been rising steadily over the past two decades and have become the leading cause of injury death in the United States. Every day in the United States, 105 people die as a result of drug overdose, and 6,748 more are treated in emergency departments for the misuse or abuse of drugs. Nearly 9 out of 10 poisoning deaths are caused by drugs.
Poisoning by contact is often work-related while we are working with chemicals that can be absorbed into the body. To avoid this, always wear protective clothing (gloves, long sleeves, long pants, socks, shoes) when working with pesticides or other harmful chemicals.
Chemicals can also poison us by ingestion, if we accidentally drink something. This is why it is important to keep chemical products in their original bottles or containers. Never use food or beverage containers such as water or soda bottles to store chemical products. This is a recipe for disaster and frequently results in the unintentional injury or death of an unsuspecting person.
In both these circumstances, it pays to be prepared. Put the U.S. poison help number (1-800-222-1222) on or near every telephone and save it in your cell phone. The line is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Here’s what to do if a poisoning occurs:
1. Remain calm. If you act scared, the patient will become more scared.
2. Call or radio for medical help. If your ship has a medical service, now is a good time to call the service for medical advice. You may be told to administer activated charcoal. It helps prevent the poison from being absorbed from the stomach into the body. Check your first-aid kit to see if you some handy.
3. If in the U.S., call that poison help number (1-800-222-1222).
When calling for help have the following information available:
The victim’s age, height and weight
The container or bottle of the poison / medication (if available)
The time the poison exposure happened
The victim’s vital signs and general appearance
The names of other medications the victim may be taking, if any
Whether the poisoning was accidental or possibly a suicide attempt
As with all medical emergencies, training and preparation is the key. Know what you will do if someone on board — crew or guest — has a poisoning incident. Think about the items onboard that might contribute to such as scenario and consider their placement and availability.
Keith Murray, a former firefighter EMT, owns The CPR School, a first-aid training company. He provides onboard training for yacht captains and crew and sells and services AEDs. Contact him at 877-6-AED-CPR, 877-623-3277 or www.TheCPRSchool.com. Comments on this column are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.