Issue of June 10, 2018
Mt. Province

70th Courier Anniversary Issue
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Medicines widely used in growing suicide cases
by Christian Allister G. Tubadeza

A clinical consultant has expressed concern about over-the-counter drugs, such as paracetamol, becoming a leading agent in suicide cases in the country.

In line with efforts of raising consciousness on the National Poison Prevention Week from June 18 to 24, Dr. Nowell Benedict C. Catbagan, clinical toxicology consultant of the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center Poison Control Unit, said pharmaceutical drugs is accounted by the Philippine General Hospital Information Service as the third most common agent of non-accidental poisoning among adults and second among children and 18 years old and below.

He said records show that there are 4,909 cases of poisoning nationwide, and around 90 percent of which are suicide cases, which are continuously rising in the past three years.

The top poisoning agents among adults admitted and monitored are caustic agents pertaining to household cleaning items like muriatic acid, sodium hydrochloride or bleach, and sodium hydroxide; and methamphetamine, which Catbagan said is also alarming.

For pediatrics, other leading poison agents are kerosene, caustic agents, and rubbing alcohol, most of which were due to accidental poisoning.

He said the medical community is all the more concerned because of the noted increasing number of teenage suicide cases using pharmaceutical drugs and the fact that these can be easily bought over the counter and in bulk.

“Since these are very common in poisoning cases, maybe one way of preventing the increase of these incidents would be curtailing the amount of paracetamol sold over the counter,” Catbagan said.

Taking in para-cetamol, he  explained, is not necessarily harmful, but it could be poisonous when taken in large doses, which is around seven to eight grams. The usual amount of the medicine is four grams taken in for pain relief every four hours.

He said those who commit or attempt suicide tend to be at risk of the complications of poisoning more than those in accidental cases, since they are more determined, would take higher doses, and would use a more lethal poison.

Among 30 to 49 years old, the most common reason for committing or attempting suicide is depression and marital problems.

In the 10 to 19 age group, they do the act mostly due to family problems; spur of the moment thought due to low grades, relationship problems, and receiving ire of their parents; and to seek sympathy or deviate attention from the actual cause of their problems.

Contrary to perception, Catbagan said there are more males who attempt or commit suicide than females, and that males are more successful in doing the act, as per national data for the past three years. Aside from poisoning, males choose more lethal means of taking their life like hanging and shooting themselves.

Cases of poisoning that have been admitted at BGHMC have remained steady for the past three years, with 248 admitted cases in 2016 and 250 cases in 2017.

However, 113 cases have already been admitted during the first quarter of 2018, and these are mainly non-accidental in nature and due mainly to caustic agents and about five percent are snake bites (but mostly non-venomous).

This year’s poison prevention week of observance has the theme, “#Lodikita: Mag-aaral na tumatanggi sa droga,” which aims to focus on having a healthy body and mind among children and schools nationwide, particularly on increasing awareness on the perils of drug abuse and on its prevention.

Catbagan said cases of poisoning can be prevented. In the case of unintentional poisoning, physicians advise caution and proper handling of substances in both adults and children, the latter being more prone to poisoning thus requiring more attention and care by their guardians.

In non-accidental cases, caution, psychiatric intervention and proper advice and handling by physicians, as well as one’s family members are crucial in preventing occurrence or commission of poison intake.

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