Increased Risk of Poisoning During the Pandemic

Older man with more than a dozen prescription medication bottles

During the COVID-19 pandemic, older people have an increased risk of poisoning, especially with medications, cleaning substances, and sanitizers, as well as intentional harm. Older adults are particularly affected by the life changes stemming from this pandemic—their higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 places increased importance on social distancing and other public health measures.

Older Adult Poison Prevention book cover

Click on the image above to open the 15-page poison prevention guide for older adults.

These necessary measures can lead to challenges for some older adults, including difficulty accessing basic needs and services, disruption of daily routines, isolation, decreased interaction with support systems, and feelings of stress and anxiety. These factors increase an older person’s risk of accidental and intentional poisoning.

To help prevent poisoning in older adults, the nonprofit Washington Poison Center developed two new resources on poison risks and prevention strategies:

Both resources are housed on the Washington Poison Center’s dedicated COVID-19 webpage, along with additional resources, data, and information for various audiences.

Poison Hoitline banner

Click on the image above to open an infographic listing prevention strategies for a range of potential poisoning situations


The Washington Poison Center, a 501c3 nonprofit organization, has assisted Washingtonians for over 60 years through its toll-free Poison Helpline (1-800-222-1222). Available 24/7/365 and staffed by nurses and pharmacists with expert-level training in toxicology, the Poison Helpline provides free, confidential, and immediate information and treatment advice on poisonings, drug overdoses, and toxic exposures. In addition to this emergency medical service, the Washington Poison Center educates communities throughout the state on ways to prevent and reduce harm from poisoning.

Although many people think of poison centers as a resource for young children, the Washington Poison Center’s services are for people of every age. In fact, poison exposures in teens, adults, and older adults tend to be more serious than those in young children. Specific to older adults, the majority of Washington Poison Center calls concern medication errors, such as accidental double-dosing or taking the wrong medication. Other common calls for older adults include accidental misuse of non-pharmaceutical products (for example, cleaning substances and personal care products), intentional harm, and adverse drug reactions.

Contributor Meghan King is a public health education and communications specialist at Washington Poison Center. She offers virtual education and presentations during the COVID-19 quarantine. If interested, e-mail Meghan at

This article originally appeared in the May 2020 issue of AgeWise King County