Hesperian Health Guides
Medicines for Poisoning
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Activated charcoal is a powder used to treat some poisonings such as certain pesticides and herbicides that have been swallowed. Activated charcoal prevents the poison from being absorbed by the body, so give it as soon as possible after being poisoned. Activated charcoal will not harm, so give it if you think the person may have been poisoned, even if you are not sure.
If you do not have activated charcoal, you can use powdered charcoal from burnt wood or even burnt bread or tortilla. Mix 1 tablespoon of powdered charcoal with warm water in a large glass. This is not as good as activated charcoal, but it still works.
Never use charcoal briquettes—they are poison!
Activated charcoal is not helpful for poisoning from:
- corrosives (such as ammonia, batteries, acids, drain cleaner, caustic soda, lye)
- hydrocarbons (such as gasoline, kerosene, turpentine, paint thinner, phenol, carbolic acid, camphor, pine oil)
- cyanide (used in mining work, factory work, animal hide hair removal, rat poison)
- iron (iron tablets, multivitamins or prenatal vitamins)
- lithium (found in medication to treat bipolar mental illness)
- methanol (found in varnish, paint thinner, fuel additives for cars)
- mineral acids
- organic solvents (found in paint thinner, glue solvents, nail polish remover, spot removers)
Can cause black stools, vomiting, constipation, or diarrhea.
How to use
Under 1 year: give 10 to 25 g.
1 year to 12 years: give 25 to 50 g.
Over 12 years: give 50 g.
Atropine is used to treat poisoning from certain pesticides, insecticides, or nerve gases. Only use atropine if the label on the pesticide container says to use atropine, or if it says the pesticide is a “cholinesterase inhibitor.” The amount of atropine needed depends on how severe the poisoning is. Usually, a poisoning from a carbamate requires less medicine than if the poisoning is from an organophosphate.
Sleepiness, feeling lightheaded, headaches, changes in thinking, and hard stools.
Keep the person cool after giving atropine.
Under 2 years: inject 0.05 mg per kg, every 5 to 10 minutes.
2 to 10 years: inject 1 mg, every 5 to 10 minutes.
Over 10 years: inject 2 mg, every 5 to 10 minutes.
Stop giving injections when the skin becomes flushed and dry, and the pupils get bigger. If the poisoning is severe, double the amounts of atropine listed above.
Deferoxamine helps treat iron poisoning by removing iron from the blood.
Blurred vision and changes in thinking.
Do not give to someone with kidney disease or if the person cannot urinate. Do not give to children under 3 years old.
Under 5 years: slowly inject 550 mg, every 6 hours, for 1 day (4 times).
5 to 12 years: slowly inject 1000 mg, every 6 hours, for 1 day (4 times).
Over 12 years: slowly inject every 6 hours for 1 day: 2000 mg (2 times), then 1000 mg (2 times).
Give acetylcysteine as soon as possible after taking too much acetaminophen. Too much acetaminophen is over 7,000 mg for an adult, and over 140mg per kg for a child.
Acetylcysteine has a strong smell. Mixing it with juice helps the person tolerate it.
For acetaminophen (paracetamol) overdose
Naloxone is used to treat an overdose from opioids such as morphine, heroin, methadone, opium, oxycodone, and other strong pain medicines. Give naloxone until the person is breathing well on their own. The treatment can wear off, so you may need to give another dose in 20 minutes if the person starts to have difficulty breathing again.
Nausea, vomiting, and sweating. Extreme discomfort.
Over 5 years: inject ½ to 2 mg in the muscle. If needed, repeat the dose every 2 to 3 minutes, but do not give more than 10 mg in total.
Sodium nitrite is used to treat cyanide poisoning together with sodium thiosulfate. It must be injected into the vein. Only do this if you know how.
Under 12 years: inject 4 to 10 mg per kg into the vein. Do not give more than 300 mg.
Over 12 years: inject 300 mg into the vein.
Follow with an injection of sodium thiosulfate. See below for doses.
Sodium thiosulfate is used to treat cyanide poisoning along with an injection of sodium nitrite. It must be injected into the vein. Only do this if you know how.
Under 12 years: inject 400 mg per kg into the vein.
Over 12 years: inject 12.5 g into the vein.