Objectives: To characterise trends in self-poisoning and psychotropic medicine use in young Australians.
Design: Population-based retrospective cohort study.
Setting Calls taken by the New South Wales and Victorian Poisons Information Centres (2006–2016, accounting for 70% of Australian poisoning calls); medicine dispensings in the 10% sample of Australian Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme data (July 2012 to June 2016).
Participants: People aged 5–19 years.
Main outcome measures: Yearly trends in intentional poisoning exposure calls, substances taken in intentional poisonings, a prevalence of psychotropic use (dispensing of antidepressants, antipsychotics, benzodiazepines and medicines for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)).
Results: There were 33 501 intentional poisonings in people aged 5–19 years, with an increase of 8.39% per year (95% CI 6.08% to 10.74%, p<0.0001), with a 98% increase overall, 2006–2016. This effect was driven by increased poisonings in those born after 1997, suggesting a birth cohort effect. Females outnumbered males 3:1. Substances most commonly taken in self-poisonings were paracetamol, ibuprofen, fluoxetine, ethanol, quetiapine, paracetamol/opioid combinations, sertraline and escitalopram. Psychotropic dispensing also increased, with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) increasing 40% and 35% July 2012 to June 2016 in those aged 5–14 and 15–19, respectively. Fluoxetine was the most dispensed SSRI. Antipsychotics increased by 13% and 10%, while ADHD medication dispensing increased by 16% and 10%, in those aged 5–14 and 15–19, respectively. Conversely, dispensing of benzodiazepines to these age groups decreased by 4% and 5%, respectively.
Conclusions: Our results signal a generation that is increasingly engaging in self-harm and is increasingly prescribed psychotropic medications. These findings indicate growing mental distress in this cohort. Since people who self-harm are at increased risk of suicide later in life, these results may foretell future increases in suicide rates in Australia.