Paracetamol poisoning is the leading cause of drug overdose among teenage (15-to-18 year old) girls, new figures reveal.

According to the 2014 Health of Children and Young People in NSW report, 1,407 girls visited emergency departments in 2013 for illicit drug use, over-dose or poisoning – a significant surge from 951 in 2011.

Temporarily gripped by fear and anxiety, teenage girls are over-dosing on prescription and non-prescription medicines as a desperate plea for help.

Usually with little planning involved, they grasp for whatever is readily available in the medicine cabinet or supermarket shelf, often misunderstanding the potentially life-threatening consequences of over-dosing on paracetamol.

According to Children’s Commissioner, Ms Megan Mitchell, because paracetamol is sold in the supermarket, teenage girls mistakenly think it won’t hurt them, but will help relay their message.

In response to the surge in over-doses among teenage girls, Ms Mitchell has called for further reduction in the size of over-the-counter paracetamol packets, from 20 to 16.

Between 2008 and 2013, more than 18,000 hospitalisations were recorded for intentional self-harm involving Australian children and young people, most of whom were female. The figures are a response to peer pressure, body image, family conflict, bullying, sexuality and mental health problems.

Those feeling distressed or wishing to talk to someone are urged to contact Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800; Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Headspace on 1800 650 890.