Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Environmental and Occupational Health

Major Professor

Raymond D. Harbison, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Rony Francois, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jay Wolfson, Dr. P.H

Committee Member

Steve Morris III, M.D.


asthma, heroin abuse, cocaine abuse, suicide, co morbidity, depression, psychosis, hospital cost, length of stay


Poisoning is frequently associated with psychological and physiological co-morbidities that can be assessed in order to improve patients' management and reduce cost. The primary objective of this study is to conduct a review of emergency department (ED) poisonings to characterize its demographics and assess associated co-morbidities. The second objective is to explore correlation between personal history of diseases and poisonings. Predictors for poisonings and its outcomes were investigated and risk factors for suicidal poisoning and how it relates to mental illnesses were explored. Six hundred and forty nine cases admitted to ED between 2004 and 2007 were studied. Results indicate that difference in ethnic background was substantial as poisoning cases were predominantly African Americans (79.9%) between 36-45 years old with a male to female ratio of 1.3. Intentional illicit drug overdose was the greatest risk factor for ED poisonings, and among the 649 cases, heroin overdose was the most common cause of poisoning at 35.4% (n=230), cocaine overdose at 31.7% (n=206), heroin and cocaine overdose at 4.3% (n=28), multiple drug poisoning at 5.5% (n=36), and antidepressant/antipsychotic poisoning at 6% (n=39). A significant correlation between heroin poisonings and asthma (F=20.29, DF=1, p= .0001) was found, as well as between cocaine poisoning and hypertension (F=33.34, DF=1, p=.0001), and cocaine poisoning and cardiovascular diseases (F=35.34, DF=1, p=.0001). Another significant finding is the change in the pattern of the route of illicit drug use from injection to inhalation; it is thought this may reduce the rate of HIV and Hepatitis transmission via hypodermic needles among illicit drug users. As well, inhalation and insufflation may be risk factors that aggravate preexisting asthma. Mental illnesses, chiefly depression, remain one of the greatest risk factors for suicidal poisoning beside age, Hispanic race, gender, ingestion route and unemployment. This study provides supporting evidence that poisoning, particularly deliberate poisoning with illicit drugs remains a serious issue that significantly aggravates co-morbidities and raises treatment cost by increasing both the rate of hospitalization and hospital length of stay (LOS). Pragmatic guidelines and innovations in reducing heroin and cocaine abuse in these patients may lessen the severity of diseases and reduce its burden on the healthcare system and on society.