Accidental poisonings, suicide, and homicidal poisonings result largely from toxic substances being readily available at work and at home. Poisoning also occurs from over-use of otherwise harmless substances. Poisons vary according to their source, e.g. animal, plant or mineral, and according to their chemical composition. They can also be corrosives, irritants, or narcotics. Corrosive poisons produce immediate pain and swelling of lips, mouth and throat; death is rapid if the dose is large. Irritant poisonings produce vomiting, purging and abdominal pain. Narcotics produce giddiness, headache, interference with sight, and stupor preceded occasionally by convulsions. Narcotic-irritants produce at first symptoms of irritant poisons; later, delirium or convulsions. All poisonings can and often do end in death.
In the USA, poisoning may run to over 150,000 reported cases a year; in France, to some 70,000; and in the UK the figure exceeds 50,000 with about 24,000 of these being accidentally poisoned children. The US figure includes 90,000 children less than 5 years of age. USA statistics also indicate that about half of all poisonings are due to medicines or medicaments. Thus the correlation between the hazards of the family medicine chest and child poisoning incidence is extremely high, indicating negligence of parents and packagers of drugs to be a contributing factor. Poisoning is more prevalent in the industrialized world where several million cases, reported and unreported, are estimated to occur annually.
Injuries and poisoning were responsible for 10% of mortality at all ages in Europe in the mid-1990s, an increase from 8% in 1990.