Methanol poisoning accounts for several deaths annually in the province of Ontario. Our study was aimed at identifying the associated epidemiological factors for fatal outcomes following methanol poisoning in order to develop preventative strategies.
The records of the Ontario Provincial Coroner's Office were reviewed retrospectively for all poison-related, alcohol-related, and chronic alcohol use-related deaths for the period of January 1, 1986 to December 31, 1991. Age, gender, reason for ingestion (accidental or intentional), and source of methanol for each victim were recorded.
There were 43 fatalities during this period, 39 males and 4 females with a mean age of 45 years (range 18-80). Suicide attempts accounted for 21 (49%) cases while the remaining 22 (51%) deaths were classified as accidental. Fourteen (64%) of these 22 patients consumed products labeled as methyl alcohol or wood alcohol as a substitute for ethanol. In 3 cases, the accidental ingestion was the direct result of methanol being improperly stored in containers normally associated with ethanol. The remaining 5 patients were poisoned through the consumption of liquor from illicit sources.
Over half of the methanol-related deaths in Ontario are accidental and potentially preventable. Possible preventative strategies include mandatory product relabeling to eliminate the word alcohol, enhanced public education, and the addition of aversive agents to methanol-containing commercial products.