THE POISON GARDEN website      Arum maculatum berries on a Cannabis leaf 

Search thepoisongarden.co.uk:

This free script provided by JavaScript Kit

Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Sunday 11th March 2012

A story from New Zealand immediately caught my attention. Any doubt about the meaning of the headline ‘Babies and elderly suffering from 'poison' dope’ was immediately removed by the first sentence of the piece ‘Babies are swallowing cannabis left lying around by their parents, calls to the National Poisons Centre show’.

As soon as I read the words ‘Poisons Centre’ I start to wonder if this was going to be another story being selective about what it decides is important. That is what I found in the 2010 American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) Annual Report.

According to the Stuff.co.nz, the New Zealand centre received 166 calls about adverse reactions to recreational drugs. My first response to that is to ask ‘166 of how many total calls’ and that sent me off to the New Zealand National Poisons Centre (NZNPC) website. The site publishes quarterly reports so I downloaded the four related to 2011 and combined them to get to annual figures.

The reports are more about performance of the centre rather than the poisons involved with lots of information about response rates and call lengths so the breakdown of the reasons for the calls is not that detailed. There are only thirteen categories of substances analysed so I assumed that ‘recreational drugs’ is part of the category reported as ‘Chemical/Drugs of Abuse’. A different table, Table G, analyses calls ‘by intent’ and has a category ‘Child exploratory’ that I would assume covers a child eating something it found lying around.

The total in the category ‘Chemical/Drugs of Abuse’ for 2011 comes to 367 calls so it is quite feasible that the 166 mentioned in the press are a sub-set of that total. Except. The press report goes on ‘Among them were calls about children and babies as young as eight months who had swallowed cannabis in their homes’. The monthly figures given in the four quarterly reports for 2011, however, are all zero for children aged 0-4 years. Where are these under ones who have been munching cannabis?

I emailed the NZNPC and received a prompt response saying that these types of cases would be classified as ‘Miscellaneous’ because the ‘Chemical/Drugs of Abuse’ ‘only records exposures where the intent of the exposure is abuse’. Yet, Table G supposedly breaks down calls into ‘Child exploratory’, ‘Unintentional’ and ‘Abuse/Misuse’ amongst others.

The age breakdown in Table H brings up another interesting point. Since the centre collects age data, and even records the number of calls where the age wasn’t established, why does the report say ‘among them’ rather than setting out exactly how many of the 166 calls were related to children. Instead the press account says; ‘The centre would not release details on what regions the children were from or the specific number of cases’. Why not?

Last Wednesday 7th I wrote about the way Matt Baker on BBC’s Countryfile used ‘legend has it’ as a way of avoiding having to say whether or not there were 99 yew trees in St Mary’s churchyard in Painswick. It strikes me that not releasing details is a way of not having to cite how few cases there actually were.

The email from NZNPC is interesting on this point. It says; ‘the journalist contacted the poison centre and asked how many exposures had occurred for a specific substance and for these types of media requests we can provide more detailed information’. Yet, that more detailed information didn’t, apparently, include the actual number of cases.

I know that there aren’t that many because lower down in the piece it says; ‘A total of 25 calls were made regarding cannabis last year’. So, something less than 25 calls may have had to do with children eating cannabis left lying around but there is no way to determine the actual number. Certainly, given that there is reference to adults having problems as a result of getting higher-strength cannabis than they were used to, not all of the 25 calls are to do with children.

But, let’s suppose they were. That compares to 5,731 calls related to therapeutic substances and 4,950 related to household items all from a total of 14,708 calls about children under 14 out of the centre’s 21,481 total calls.

Even the 1049 calls related to plants and 232 calls related to fungi make the 25 related to cannabis seem insignificant.

The quarterly reports give a monthly breakdown for the substances included in the heading ‘Therapeutics’. In December alone, analgesics, anti-infectives, anti-inflammatories, supplements and topical applications all recorded higher figures for one month than cannabis did for the whole year. Similarly, under the ‘Household’ category, cleaner, detergent and disinfectant all recorded higher totals in one month than the 25 cannabis calls in a year quoted in the news report.

I’m left to wonder what the point of this story was. If the intention had been to warn parents about the dangers of leaving things around for children to ingest, it would have been much better to focus on the substances that are doing the bulk of the harm, such as picking out the 849 calls related to children and analgesics in the year. Especially, since only around 15% of New Zealand adults are cannabis users whereas almost everybody has analgesics in the home. Campaigning about the dangers of accidental analgesic ingestion would, surely, produce greater benefit.

Incidentally, that prevalence issue can be very roughly accounted for. If cannabis were in every home, the 25 calls that were the result of it goes to just over 150 or around one fifth of those resulting from painkillers being left where children can reach them.

If not to try and do some good to the public health then, perhaps, the story was just an attempt to stigmatise cannabis using parents whilst ignoring the far greater number of parents who put their children at far greater risk by leaving seriously harmful pharmaceuticals lying around. Given that it seems the story began with interest from the Stuff.co.nz journalist rather than action by the NZNPC that appears likely.

When you look into the numbers it begins to seem that this is just another example of using partial information to try and demonise drug users.

 

Full Entries

2016

Tuesday 25th October 2016
Saturday 20th August 2016
Sunday 6th March 2016
Wednesday 3rd February 2016

2015

Saturday 28th November 2015
Friday 27th November 2015
Monday 17th August 2015
Wednesday 15th July 2015
Friday 26th June 2015
Thursday 25th June 2015
Thursday 30th April 2015
Wednesday 29th April 2015
Wednesday 11th March 2015
Tuesday 3rd March 2015
Saturday 28th February 2015
Sunday 22nd February 2015

November 2014

Monday 24th November 2014
Saturday 8th November 2014

October 2014

September 2014

Wednesday 24th September 2014
Monday 1st September 2014

August 2014

Tuesday 26th August 2014
Saturday 16th August 2014
Tuesday 5th August 2014
Friday 1st August 2014

July 2014

Sunday 27th July 2014
Wednesday 23rd July 2014
Sunday 13th July 2014
Sunday 6th July 2014
Tuesday 1st July 2014

June 2014

Wednesday 25th June 2014
Tuesday 24th June 2014
Sunday 22nd June 2014
Monday 9th June 2014
Wednesday 4th June 2014

May 2014

Monday 26th May 2014
Sunday 18th May 2014
Wednesday 14th May 2014

April 2014

Sunday 13th April 2014
Saturday 5th April 2014
Thursday 3rd April 2014
Tuesday 1st April 2014

March 2014

Monday 31st March 2014
Tuesday 25th March 2014
Friday 21st March 2014
Monday 17th March 2014
Sunday 16th March 2014
Tuesday 11th March 2014
Tuesday 11th March 2014
Thursday 6th March 2014
Wednesday 5th March 2014
Saturday 1st March 2014

February 2014

Thursday 27th February 2014
Monday 24th February 2014
Wednesday 19th February 2014
Monday 17th February 2014
Thursday 13th February 2014
Monday 4th February 2014
Monday 3rd February 2014
Saturday 1st February 2014

January 2014

Thursday 28th January 2014
Thursday 23rd January 2014
Friday 17th January 2014
Wednesday 15th January 2014
Monday 13th January 2014
Thursday 9th January 2014
Tuesday 7th January 2014
Wednesday 1st January 2014

December 2013

Monday 23rd December 2013
Friday 20th December 2013
Tuesday 17th December 2013
Friday 14th December 2013
Thursday 12th December 2013
Sunday 8th December 2013
Wednesday 4th December 2013
Sunday 1st December 2013

November 2013

Friday 29th November 2013
Wednesday 27th November 2013
Tuesday 26th November 2013
Friday 22nd November 2013
Monday 18th November 2013
Friday 15th November 2013
Thursday 14th November 2013
Sunday 10th November 2013
Thursday 7th November 2013
Wednesday 6th November 2013
Friday 1st November 2013

October 2013

Thursday 31st October 2013
Sunday 27th October 2013
Wednesday 23rd October 2013
Monday 21st October 2013
Friday 18th October 2013
Friday 11th October 2013
Wednesday 9th October 2013
Tuesday 8th October 2013
Monday 7th October 2013
Tuesday 1st October 2013

September 2013

Monday 30th September 2013
Saturday 28th September 2013
Friday 27th September 2013
Monday 23rd September 2013
Sunday 15th September 2013
Monday 9th September 2013
Tuesday 3rd September 2013
Sunday 1st September 2013

August 2013

Sunday 8th September 2013
Tuesday 3rd September 2013
Sunday 1st September 2013

Tuesday 27th August 2013
Sunday 25th August 2013
Monday 19th August 2013
Friday 16th August 2013
Tuesday 13th August 2013
Friday 9th August 2013
Friday 2nd August 2013
Thursday 1st August 2013

July 2013

Saturday 27th July 2013
Sunday 21st July 2013
Wednesday 17th July 2013
Monday 15th July 2013
Saturday 13th July 2013
Friday 12th July 2013
Thursday 11th July 2013
Wednesday 10th July 2013
Tuesday 9th July 2013
Saturday 6th July 2013

June 2013

Friday 28th June 2013
Tuesday 25th June 2013
Friday 21st June 2013
Thursday 20th June 2013
Wednesday 19th June 2013
Saturday 15th June 2013
Sunday 9th June 2013
Saturday 8th June 2013
Saturday 1st June 2013
 

May 2013

April 2013

March 2013

February 2013

January 2013

December 2012

November 2012

October 2012

September 2012

August 2012

July 2012 blog

June 2012 blog

May 2012 blog

April 2012 blog

March 2012 blog

February 2012 blog

January 2012 blog

December 2011 blog

November 2011 blog

October 2011 blog

September 2011 blog

August 2011 blog

July 2011 blog

June 2011 blog



IMPORTANT NOTE

The POISON GARDEN website is not connected with Alnwick Garden Enterprises Ltd and/or The Alnwick Garden Trust.