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Background: Globally, poisonings account for most medically-attended self-harm. Recent data on poisoning substances are lacking, but are needed to inform self-harm prevention. Aim: To assess poisoning substance patterns and trends among 10–24-year-olds across England Design and setting: Open cohort study of 1 736 527 young people, using linked Clinical Practice Research Datalink, Hospital Episode Statistics, and Office for National Statistics mortality data, from 1998 to 2014. Method: Poisoning substances were identified by ICD-10 or Read Codes. Incidence rates and adjusted incidence rate ratios (aIRR) were calculated for poisoning substances by age, sex, index of multiple deprivation, and calendar year. Results: In total, 40 333 poisoning episodes were identified, with 57.8% specifying the substances involved. The most common substances were paracetamol (39.8%), alcohol (32.7%), non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (11.6%), antidepressants (10.2%), and opioids (7.6%). Poisoning rates were highest at ages 16–18 years for females and 19–24 years for males. Opioid poisonings increased fivefold from 1998–2014 (females: aIRR 5.30, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 4.08 to 6.89; males: aIRR 5.11, 95% CI = 3.37 to 7.76), antidepressant poisonings three-to fourfold (females: aIRR 3.91, 95% CI = 3.18 to 4.80, males: aIRR 2.70, 95% CI = 2.04 to 3.58), aspirin/NSAID poisonings threefold (females: aIRR 2.84, 95% CI = 2.40 to 3.36, males: aIRR 2.76, 95% CI = 2.05 to 3.72) and paracetamol poisonings threefold in females (aIRR 2.87, 95% CI = 2.58 to 3.20). Across all substances poisoning incidence was higher in more disadvantaged groups, with the strongest gradient for opioid poisonings among males (aIRR 3.46, 95% CI = 2.24 to 5.36). Conclusion: It is important that GPs raise awareness with families of the substances young people use to self-harm, especially the common use of over-the-counter medications. Quantities of medication prescribed to young people at risk of self-harm and their families should be limited, particularly analgesics and antidepressants.

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Edward Tyrell, PhD student, University of Nottingham