Background: Deliberate self-poisoning with agricultural pesticides is the commonest means of suicide in rural Asia. It is mostly impulsive and facilitated by easy access to pesticides. The aim of this large observational study was to investigate the immediate source of pesticides used for self-harm to help inform suicide prevention strategies such as reducing domestic access to pesticides.
Methods: The study was conducted in a district hospital serving an agricultural region of Sri Lanka. Patients who had self-poisoned with pesticides and were admitted to the adult medical wards were interviewed by study doctors following initial resuscitation to identify the source of pesticides they have ingested.
Results: Of the 669 patients included in the analysis, 425 (63.5%) were male; the median age was 26 (IQR 20-36). In 511 (76%) cases, the pesticides had been stored either inside or immediately outside the house; among this group only eight patients obtained pesticides that were kept in a locked container. Ten percent (n = 67) of the patients used pesticides stored in the field while 14% (n = 91) purchased pesticides from shops within a few hours of the episode. The most common reasons for choosing the particular pesticide for self-harm were its easy accessibility (n = 311, 46%) or its popularity as a suicide agent in their village (n = 290, 43%).
Conclusion: Three quarters of people who ingested pesticides in acts of self-harm used products that were available within the home or in close proximity; relatively few patients purchased the pesticide for the act. The study highlights the importance of reducing the accessibility of toxic pesticides in the domestic environment.