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Dec 2, 2011

Most Emergency Hospital Visits Linked with Four Prescribed Medications

It comes as no surprise that the majority of the medications prescribed today come with a long list of potential side effects.  Some of these side effects are thought of as mild or tolerable, while others may be dangerous or even deadly.  In the United States, about 100,000 people over the age of 65 are admitted into hospitals annually for adverse effects from medications.  

According to a recent report published in The New England Journal of Medicine, just four drugs or drug groups were found to be the cause of two-thirds of emergency hospitalizations in older adults.  Between 2007 and 2009, data regarding adverse drug events was gathered and analyzed from 58 hospitals throughout the United States.  The drug found to be most responsible for emergency hospitalizations is the blood thinner Coumadin, accounting for one-third of the total emergency visits.  Next in line is insulin (injectible) which contributes to fourteen percent of total visits.  Aspirin, clopidogrel, and other antiplatelet medications used to prevent clotting account for thirteen percent of total visits, while oral hypoglycemic drugs frequently used in diabetics account for eleven percent. 

These types of drugs are common prescriptions for adults over 65 years of age in the United States.  What makes these drugs prone to causing such problems is that they all share a narrow therapeutic index, meaning that the dose required for therapeutic benefit is not far off from the dose that leads to major adverse effects and emergency hospitalizations.  Some of these drugs require close monitoring or even regular blood testing to make sure dosing is appropriate and to prevent dangerous side effects or interactions.     
Author of the study and director of the Medication Safety Program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Dan Budnitz, did not expect to see so many emergency hospitalizations due to such a relatively few number of drugs.   

With about forty percent of Americans over age 65 currently taking between 5 and 9 medications, it’s only reasonable to assume that accidental overdoses and adverse drug reactions will continue to remain a major reason for emergency hospitalizations in this population.  

Dr. Shana McQueen