A study tracked adverse drug events reported at 63 U.S. hospitals between 2004 and 2005. During the study period, the hospitals reported nearly 21,300 emergency department visits.
Extrapolating to the United States as a whole, that means more than 700,000 people, especially those 65 and older, visit U.S. emergency rooms each year as a result of adverse drug reactions.
Seniors were seven times more likely than younger patients to be admitted to a hospital for this reason, and more than twice as likely to be treated in the emergency room.
Drugs, for the purposes of the study, included prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, vaccines, vitamins, dietary supplements, and herbal products. Adverse effects included allergic reactions, side effects, accidental overdoses, or secondary effects such as falls or choking.
Most adverse drug events were due to accidental overdoses and allergic reactions. Drug-related deaths, suicide attempts, abuse, and withdrawals were not considered in the study.
Most patients were treated and released quickly, but roughly 117,000 patients per year required hospitalization for adverse drug events. Many of those cases stemmed from drugs that require monitoring to avoid toxic build-up, including:
- Painkillers containing opioids
- Anticlotting drugs
- Antihistamines and cold remedies
In those 65 and older, ER visits were also linked to:
- Coumadin, which helps prevent blood clots
- Digoxin, which helps weak hearts work more efficiently