NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 9, 2005

Government assistance benefits always arrive at the same time: the beginning of the month. Thus, at that time, there is a spike in demand for prescription drugs which results in increased errors and unnecessary deaths, according to Pharmacotherapy.

Analyzing all U.S. death certificates from 1979 through 2000, the authors found 131,952 deaths resulted from fatal poisoning accidents due to drugs. Furthermore:

  • A small number, 3.2 percent, of the deaths were from adverse effects of the right drug in the right dose.
  • The vast majority, 96.8 percent, resulted from medication errors -- the wrong drug given, the wrong drug taken or the wrong dose taken.

Since everyone receives their benefits at the same time, pharmacies are overwhelmed in the first couple days of the month. This leads to more errors and more poisonings. The authors find that:

  • There is a 25 percent spike in fatal poisonings in the first few days of the month.
  • This spike was as evident in the young and well-offs as in the elderly and poor -- suggesting the problem was at least partly due to an increase in pharmacy error at the beginning of the month.

To curtail these types of death, the authors suggest staggering benefit payments throughout the month or for pharmacies to increase staffing at the beginning of the month.

Source: Inga Kiderra, "New UCSD Research Shows Deadly Drug Mistakes Spike At The Start Of Each Month, Suggest Pharmacy Errors," UCSD Press Release, University of California San Diego, January 5, 2005; based upon: David Phillips, Jason Jarvinen and Rosalie Phillips, "A Spike in Fatal Medication Errors at the Beginning of Each Month," Pharmacotherapy, American College of Clinical Pharmacy, January 2005.

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