Athens, Ga. Homicidal poisonings are rare but on the riseand infants are the most common victimsaccording to a new University of Georgia study that aims to raise awareness of this often overlooked crime.
Greene Shepherd, clinical professor in the UGA College of Pharmacy, and recent graduate Brian Ferslew examined seven years of recent federal mortality data and identified 523 deaths due to homicidal poisoninga figure that corresponds to a rate of 0.26 poisonings per million people. The study found that although poisonings account for less than one percent of all homicides, they appear to be on the rise. The study documented a low of 0.20 cases per million in 2000 and a high of 0.35 in 2004. In 2005, the last year for which data is available, the rate was 0.3 per million people.
"Homicidal poisoning is rare relative to a lot of other causes of death, but the numbers are trending higher," said Shepherd, whose results appear in the May issue of the journal Clinical Toxicology. "We may never know the true incidence because some cases undoubtedly evade detection and classification."
Shepherd is a former poison control center director who had heard several anecdotal accounts of homicidal poisonings but found very little data on their incidence. Because such data is a critical starting point for efforts to reduce the risk of poisonings, he and Ferslew began combing through data compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics.
While books and television dramas often portray homicidal poisoning as a premeditated crime committed against adults, the researchers found that infants are the most common victims. Children less than one year old are approximately nine times more likely to be victims than the general population, the study found. Shepherd said that rather than being premeditated acts, the majority of these poisonings are likely negligent homicides committed by parents or caretakers.
"Anyone who has been
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