Medications, potentially life-saving when used against illness, also can be dangerous and sometimes lethal. In this analysis the investigators determine the proportion of patients hospitalized in the United States who are affected by serious or fatal drug reactions defined as a noxious, unintended, or undesired effect of a drug that occurs at therapeutic doses. The overall rate of serious adverse drug reactions (ADR's) was 6.7% of hospitalized patients. The authors estimated that in 1994 overall 2,216,000 hospitalized patients had serious ADR's and 106,000 had fatal ADR's, making these reactions the fifth leading cause of death.
JAMA. 1998;279:1200 and 1216
COMMENT: There is NO QUESTION that this is the biggest medical story this week. Even I am shocked on this one. It is hard to believe that JAMA actually published this information. If you go into the hospital, there is a one in 15 chance that you will have an adverse reaction to a drug. Those are quite high numbers. Even more startling is that there is a one in 312 chance that the adverse reaction will result in death. This is such a high number that it is the FIFTH leading cause of death in this country. It is important to remember that this analysis was only done for hospitalized patients. The number is clearly higher as many more prescriptions are written for patients outside of the hospital. No, this does not mean one should never enter the hospital or never use drugs. I am very grateful that those resources exist and there are clearly times when they are necessary. However, it is important to try every last natural therapy before you resort to drugs or hospitalization.