The Poison Capital of the U.S.

A story in today's Salt Lake City Tribune carries this rather obscure headline: "Poison Death Rate is High." What poison, what death rate, you wonder? Where?

And the story deserved better than that because what it says is that residents of Utah die from poisons at twice the rate of people living elsewhere in the country. The national average for poison fatalities - mostly accidents and suicides - is 11 deaths per 100,000 residents annually. In Utah, though, the yearly rate is 21.3 per 100,000.

Why Utah, you wonder? Even the state officials aren't sure. The state has its share of unusual poisonings. Last week, two little girls - aged 4 and 15 months - died when a pest control operator placed poison pellets in their yard to kill rodents. The pellets were placed too close to the house and fumes seeped in, apparently sickening the adults and killing the children.

But mostly this western state's poison deaths seem to reflect the national picture - only more so, of course. The chemicals that seem to kill most people are those we keep in our homes, basements, gardens and garages. Number one: painkillers. Number two: household cleaning products. I really hate to tell you how many people commit suicide with drain cleaners. Number Three: cosmetics (children eat them). Household pesticides are only seventh on the Utah list.

Nationally, the American Association of Poison Control Centers also puts analgesics first in poison exposures, followed by cosmetics and then cleaning products. The 2008 annual report notes that 90.58 percent of all poisonings occur in the home and that just over 80 percent of those are accidental.

Statistics gathered in Utah showed that deaths due to to prescription pain-killers have been skyrocketing in the last decade, a 500 percent increase between 1997 and 2008. But as I said, officials there aren't really sure why.  More prescriptions, too much carelessness,  more stress?  A "complex" problem is their description.

Oh well, it's my description too.

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Just a thought as to why Utah might rank the highest: As a mother, I quickly learned that the more children I had, the less able I was to effectively supervise them. When I had one toddler, I supervised almost his every move. When he was three and I had twins, I was much less capable of following him around. And when the twins were toddling around and my oldest was five, forget it!

To check on this idea, I looked at the Population Age of U.S. states and saw that Utah has the second-lowest age in the country, behind only Alaska. My original hunch had me guessing that the population was young, especially because of the history of large families in Mormon communities.

Just my two cents.