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Introduction to Medical Toxicology

What is Medical Toxicology?

Medical Toxicology is a field of medicine dedicated to the evaluation and treatment of poisoned and envenomated patients. This also includes adverse health effects of medications, occupational and environmental toxins, and biological agents. Medical Toxicology is an officially recognized subspecialty by the American Board of Medical Specialties.


 What are some examples of problems evaluated by Medical Toxicologists?

Medical toxicologists are involved in the care of people who come into contact with drugs, substances or other agents causing potentially adverse health effects. This entails expertise in many areas, such as:

  • Unintentional and intentional overdoses of such agents as:
    • Therapeutic drugs including antidepressants, cardiac medications and many others
    • Over-the-counter medicines
    • Drugs of abuse
  • Exposure to industrial chemical products and environmental hazards such as:
    • Pesticides
    • Heavy metals
    • Household products
    • Toxic gases
    • Toxic alcohols
    • Other industrial and environmental agents, including radiation exposures
  • Drug abuse management including:
    • Inpatient care for acute withdrawal states from addictive agents such as alcohol and drugs of abuse
    • Outpatient addiction medicine treatment
  • Diagnosis and management of exposures such as:
    • Snake, scorpion and spider envenomations
    • Marine toxins
    • Ingestion of food-borne toxins
    • Ingestion of toxic plants
  • Independent medical examinations, assessing injury or disability resulting from toxic exposures

What kind of professional services do physicians trained in Medical Toxicology provide?

Physicians trained in Medical Toxicology provide professional services in a variety settings including:

  • Emergency departments and in-patient units where they directly treat acutely poisoned patients
  • Outpatient clinics and occupational health settings where they evaluate the health impact from exposure to toxic substances in the home or workplace
  • National and regional poison control centers where they provide medical direction for health professionals, personal responders and the general public
  • Academic institutions where they are involved in teaching, research, and improving evidence-based patient care
  • Industry and commerce where they contribute to pharmaceutical research and development, product safety, occupational health services, and regulatory compliance
  • Governmental agencies where they provide toxicology expertise at all levels from local health departments to federal entities
  • Clinical and forensic laboratories where they aid in the design, conduction and interpretation of diagnostic tests and forensic studies

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