Surge in Deaths from Drug Mistakes at Home

Surge in Deaths from Drug Mistakes at Home

A recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed an overall 360 percent increase between 1983 and 2004 in the U.S. death rate due to fatal medication errors (FMEs). The study examined FMES that occurred in domestic (at-home) and non-domestic settings as described in the death certificates of nearly 225,000 individuals whose cause of death was listed as a medication error.

OTC Medication and Prescription Errors at Home
Most prior studies of FMEs focused on medication errors made by healthcare providers in medical settings, such as the mistakes made by nurses, doctors, anesthesiologists and pharmacists. However, the rate of FMEs among individuals who were taking one or more prescription or OTC (over-the-counter) medications at home has significantly increased.

Home Mistakes More Common than in Healthcare Settings
The non-profit Pharmacy Foundation of California (PFC) tracks this medication issue and related matters, and as the Foundation's CEO, Dr. Michael Negrete, noted, "When you realize that the vast majority of medications are taken in peoples' homes where they have little to no professional support, you can see that medication errors in clinical settings are very likely a small part of the overall problem."

Indeed, the rate of fatal medication mistakes at home increased far more quickly than those in healthcare settings.

Four Types of Medication Mistakes
The Archives of Internal Medicine study (conducted by researchers at the University of California–San Diego) found that the increase in FMEs differed markedly by four types:

  • Domestic FMEs combined with alcohol and/or street drugs— the largest increase (3,196 percent)
  • Domestic FMEs not involving alcohol and/or street drugs — increased by 564 percent
  • Non-domestic FMEs combined with alcohol and/or street drugs — increased by 555 percent]
  • Non-domestic FMEs not involving alcohol and/or street drugs — the smallest increase (5 percent)

Medication Mistakes: One of the Top Five Causes of Death
As stated on the PFC's website, it has been estimated that medication problems are one of the top five causes of death in the U.S. The number of serious injuries due to OTC and prescription mistakes is on the rise as well. Agencies such as the California Expert Panel on Medication Errors are beginning to issue recommendations regarding ways to educate consumers about the safe use of medications in hopes of preventing future serious injuries and wrongful deaths.

(Sources: U.S. News & World Report, Arch Int Med, Pharmacy Foundation)

Have you lost a loved one due to an OTC or prescription medication mistake?
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