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Data suggests sharp rise in teen poisonings over past 20 years

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There has been a sharp rise in the overall number of teen poisonings over the past 20 years in the UK, particularly among girls and young women, according to researchers.

The study, the largest of its kind, suggests the rises are strongly linked to social and economic deprivation.

“Social and psychological support for adolescents should be targeted within more deprived communities”

Study authors

Most previous evidence on the incidence and risk factors for poisonings was restricted to data on hospital admissions or emergency care visits, with little information on time trends.

The new study searched over a million GP records on poisonings – both deliberate and unintentional – between 1992 and 2012, finding there were 17,862 cases among teenagers. The analysis revealed that the overall numbers of new cases of recorded teen poisonings rose by 27% between 1992 and 2012, from 264 per 100,000 teenagers per year to 347.

The largest increases during this period were seen for intentional poisonings among 16-17-year-old girls, and for alcohol related poisonings among 15-16-year-old girls, both of which roughly doubled.

Between 2007 and 2012, 64% of poisonings were recorded as intentional, with only 4% unintentional. Some 16% were related to alcohol, while the intent was unknown in 16% of cases.

There was a “clear gender divide” in the poisoning rates, with sex differences in intentional and alcohol related poisonings widening over time, said the researchers from the University of Nottingham.

The rate of poisoning in boys and young men was less than half that in girls and young women, with the trend particularly true of intentional poisonings.

Alcohol related poisonings were 10% lower in boys and young men, according to the findings published in the journal Injury Prevention.

Overall rates were strongly linked to deprivation, with hose living in the most deprived areas two to three times more likely to poison themselves, either deliberately or unintentionally, as those living in the least deprived areas.

The link with poverty and deprivation did not reduce over time, and may reflect a difference in levels of mental anguish, stress, and social and psychological support, suggest the researchers.

mental health alcohol teenage drinking

They acknowledged that the increases seen in the study might be the result of changes in GP coding practices or recording trends following perceptions that intentional poisonings were more frequent.

However, they said: “One potential explanation for the increase in alcohol poisonings over time is increased availability, with the relative affordability of alcohol in the UK increasing steadily between 1980 and 2012, licensing hours having increased since 2003, and numbers of outlets increasing alongside alcohol harm.”

They said: “Since intentional and alcohol related adolescent poisoning rates are increasing, both child and adolescent mental health and alcohol treatment service provision needs to be commissioned to reflect this changing need.

“Social and psychological support for adolescents should be targeted within more deprived communities to help reduce the current social inequalities,” they added.

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