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Intentional Ethylene Glycol Poisoning Increase after Media Coverage of Antifreeze Murders

  • Author(s): Morgan, Brent W;
  • Geller, Robert J;
  • Kazzi, Ziad
  • et al.
Creative Commons 'BY-NC' version 4.0 license

Background: The media can have a profound impact on human behavior. A sensational murder by ethylene glycol (EG) poisoning occurred in our state. The regional media provided extensive coverage of the murder. We undertook this investigation to evaluate our incidence of EG poisoning during the timeframe of before the first report linking a death to ethylene glycol to shortly after the first murder trial.

Methods: Descriptive statistics and linear regression were used to describe and analyze the number of EG cases over time. A search of the leading regional newspaper’s archives established the media coverage timeline.

Result: Between 2000 and 2004, our poison center (PC) handled a steady volume of unintentional exposures to EG [range: 105–123 per year, standard deviation (SD)=7.22]. EG exposures thought to be suicidal in intent increased from 12 cases in 2000 to 121 cases in 2004. In the 19 months prior to the first media report of this story, our PC handled a mean of 1 EG case with suicidal intent per month [range: 0–2, SD=.69]. In the month after the first media report, our PC handled 5 EG cases with suicidal intent. When media coverage was most intense (2004), our PC received a mean of 10 EG suicidal-intent calls per month [range: 5–17, SD=3.55]. Although uncommon, reports of malicious EG poisonings also increased during this same period from 2 in 2000 to 14 in 2004.

Conclusion: Media coverage of stories involving poisonings may result in copycat events, applicable to both self-poisonings and concern for malicious poisonings. Poison centers should be aware of this phenomenon, pay attention to local media and plan accordingly if a poisoning event receives significant media coverage. The media should be more sensitive to the content of their coverage and avoid providing “how to” poisoning information. [West J Emerg Med. 2011;12(3):296-299.]

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