By Jeanne Ongiyo
Poisoning in layman’s language is injury or death that is a result of swallowing, inhaling, touching or injecting hazardous drugs, chemicals or gases into the body tissues. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, medical poisoning is a common cause of morbidity and mortality in the United States of America. This mostly happens through the use of over the counter medicines that are stocked within the household. It is a natural situation to buy medication like pain killers and cough syrup in bulk probably as stock that one can use occasionally when need be. This not only saves on the tedious and time consuming exercise of rushing to the nearest pharmacy to have the medication prescribed and sold to you at seemingly exorbitant prices. We also find it economical not only because of the quantity but because nearly all forms of medication has a shelf-life of between 2 to 3 years from the date of manufacture. Moreover, some pharmacists would advice that over the counter medicines more often than not come with an additional 3 month grace period of use after the initial expiry date indicated on the pack which adds more value to buying such medicines in bulk.
When using medication at home, it is important to note some important considerations for safety and to avoid medical poisoning. Medicine often comes in containers that indicate the directions for use as well as the proper storage instructions. All medicines should be stored in a cool dry place away from direct sunlight and away from contaminants such as aerosol sprays or foodstuff. For medicines stored in sachets or packs, once the seal is broken, all unused contents of the sachet should be discarded properly and not stored for further use as they are at high risk of contamination. All medicines should be stored in clearly marked individual containers to avoid accidents while they are in use. Medicines should never be transferred into food containers or soft drink bottles unless need be and this implies that these containers should be separated from other food containers.
Keep all medicines out of children’s reach and always leave children under proper adult supervision when they are expected to take medicine. Regularly check the expiry dates of medicines that have been stored in bulk over a long period of time and discard all medication that exhibits signs of leakages or change in the thickness or thinness of the solution as in the case of syrups.
In the event that medical poisoning occurs, proper First Aid measures should be undertaken to safeguard the life of the poisoned individual. The first step is always ensuring that the situation is under control to prevent the likely occurrence of panic attacks. The person who has been poisoned, also known as a casualty, should be placed under observation. Take note of everything that is taking place with the casualty; are they conscious? Breathing? Do they have a pulse, is it regular, irregular, fast, slow? What is around them? Bottles, pills, containers? Make sure to keep these away from other people as they may still pose a risk. Also, make sure other people do not crowd the casualty and take away people who may become hysterical as they make a tense situation worse.
After this, the main aim should be the elimination of the poison from the body before it causes more harm to the casualty. Be sure not to induce vomiting as the casualty may have swallowed acidic chemicals that may corrode the stomach lining, mouth and the entire digestive tract in the event that the casualty vomits. If the casualty is conscious, ground charcoal should be administered to the casualty as this ground charcoal tends to absorb the poison from the body tissues. This charcoal also has a neutralizing effect on the poison and once fully neutralized, the gritty texture of the charcoal causes the casualty to vomit. Charcoal however does not work in cases where the casualty suffers from petroleum or alcohol poisoning.
In cases where petroleum or alcohol poisoning is presumed, whole bowel irrigation is administered and this involves large quantities of water or a mixture of water and baking soda that flushes the entire gastrointestinal tract before the poison takes effect. A ventilator can also be used in the event that the casualty has stopped breathing to ensure that he or she breathes efficiently as First Aid is being administered. If the casualty is unconscious, he or she should be immediately rushed to hospital where the medical practitioners will put a piece of soft, flexible, plastic tube into the windpipe to protect the casualty from suffocating from his or her own vomit as his or her stomach is being pumped to remove the poison from the body tissues. The tube also acts as artificial breathing for the unconscious casualty.
Gas poisoning is handled in an almost similar way but includes the evacuation of the casualty from the room or enclosure where the gas was inhaled as well as covering the nose and mouth of the casualty with a wet cloth to prevent corrosion from the gas inhaled. All poisons must also be handled with proper protective clothing like a pair of gloves to avoid further poisoning.