May 10, 2009

Study: Homicidal poisoning increasing

Homicidal poisoning -- an often overlooked crime -- is rare but on the rise, with infants the most common victims, University of Georgia researchers say.

Greene Shepherd of the University of Georgia College of Pharmacy and recent graduate Brian Ferslew examined seven years of recent federal mortality data and identified 523 deaths due to homicidal poisoning -- a figure that corresponds to a rate of 0.26 poisonings per million people.

The study, published in the journal Clinical Toxicology, finds poisonings appear to be on the rise -- although they account for less than 1 percent of all homicides.

The study documented a low of 0.20 cases per million in 2000 and a high of 0.35 in 2004.

Homicidal poisoning is rare relative to a lot of other causes of death, but the numbers are trending higher, Shepherd said in a statement. We may never know the true incidence because some cases undoubtedly evade detection and classification.

Children younger than age 1 are approximately nine times more likely than the general population to be victims, the study finds.

Shepherd says that rather than being premeditated acts, the majority of these poisonings are likely negligent homicides committed by parents or caretakers due to long hours, stress and sometimes bad decisions to try to sedate a child with medication or alcohol.