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Activated Charcoal Works as Poison Antidote

A study suggests the powdery substance should be kept in medicine cabinet along with ipecac.

January 28, 2002|Associated Press

CHICAGO — Activated charcoal, a poison antidote used in emergency rooms for decades, can be easily used in children at home and may help prevent a trip to the hospital, a study has found.

The substance is a fine powder form of processed charcoal that binds to many types of poisons and can keep them from being absorbed into the bloodstream. Stocked by some pharmacies, it can be mixed at home with water, juice or soft drinks, and also comes premixed with water.

While American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines still recommend that parents of young children keep a bottle of ipecac syrup on hand for accidental poisonings, many local poison control centers have started recommending home use of activated charcoal as well.

Ipecac works for substances such as toxic plants or vitamin overdoses, while charcoal is considered more effective for a broad range of household items including certain cough medicines, painkillers and disinfectant cleaners.

Home use of activated charcoal has been limited because many parents don't know about it or are uncertain how to administer it, Kentucky researchers reported in last month's issue of Pediatrics. Their study of accidental poisonings in Kentucky found that parents could successfully use activated charcoal at home.

In 115 out of 138 cases for which the substance was recommended and instructions on use were given, children were able to be treated at home, with no complications. The 23 cases treated in emergency rooms involved children whose parents didn't have activated charcoal at home and whose local pharmacies didn't stock it.

In 30 of the cases treated at home, caregivers reported some difficulty using activated charcoal, but all ultimately administered it successfully, the researchers said.

In many of the home cases, children received the substance within an hour of ingesting poison, which is optimal for reducing poison absorption, said authors Henry Spiller of Kentucky's Regional Poison Center in Louisville and Dr. George Rodgers of the University of Louisville. It's also a lot quicker than the time it would have taken to get them emergency room treatment, they said.

"Greater efforts need to be put into educating parents about the need to stock activated charcoal in the home in advance of a poisoning," they said. Pharmacists and pediatricians, too, should be made aware that the substance can effectively be used at home, they said.

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