It’s a disturbing public health trend that keeps getting worse.

A growing number of preteens in the Garden State, ages 9 to 12 are attempting to take their lives by swallowing large amounts of whatever medication they can get their hands on.

New Jersey Poison Control Center data shows there have been 31 confirmed suicide attempts through the abuse of medication by preteens so far this year, while there were 70 confirmed cases in 2018.

Before that, 55 preteens in Jersey attempted to take their own lives using poison in 2017, and there were 44 confirmed cases in 2016.

New Jersey law does not require hospitals and healthcare facilities to report drug overdoses to the Poison Control Center, so these totals are likely on the low side .

Doctor Diane Calello, the executive director of the New Jersey Poison Control Center at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School’s Department of Emergency Medicine, said the drugs of choice for these attempts are usually over the counter -- often analgesics like acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol.

“After that we see a lot of anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, medications people take for psychiatric diagnoses, opioid pain relievers," Calello said.

She said household cleaning products and cosmetics are rarely used in these attempts.

“Fortunately, the majority of those are not completed suicides, but we do know that when people attempt suicide that many times they end up eventually ending their life," Calello said.

She said teens will often reach out to their friends, not parents, coaches or teachers.

“We we need to talk to kids about if they suspect a friend is in trouble or is having suicidal thoughts," Calello  said. "They need to reach out to an adult to get them help right away.”

Often, when a teen winds up in the hospital, it's because a friend who was told calls for help, Calello said.

She also said attempted suicide by poisoning may be influenced by media coverage of the subject.

“I think we need to look carefully at the media influences that our children receive, and the ways that they call out for help," she said.

She stressed if you have medications at home that you’re no longer, including opioids, sedatives, anti-depressants or anti-psychotics, get rid of them.

“Bring them to a drug take-back. ... There are drug kits that absorb the active drug and then you can throw them in the garbage,” she said.

For more information you can all the New Jersey Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.