NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Medication Errors up More than 50 Percent

April 18, 2011

The number of people treated in hospitals in the United States for problems related to medication errors has surged more than 50 percent in recent years, according to a new report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

  • In 2008, 1.9 million people became ill or injured from medication side effects or because they took or were given the wrong type or dose of medication.
  • This is up from 1.2 million injured in 2004.

Although several national reports in recent years have sounded the alarm about the toll of medication errors, the latest data show the problem continues to persist.

  • The AHRQ data measure only patients treated in the hospital or emergency department as a result of a medication error, and the data don't distinguish between prescribing, dispensing or consumer errors.
  • The data showed that among patients who were admitted to the hospital after taking the wrong type or dose of a drug, the most common medications to cause side effects or injuries were corticosteroids -- drugs typically used to treat asthma, ulcerative colitis or arthritis.
  • Other drugs that resulted in the highest number of patients admitted to the hospital were pain relievers, blood thinners, cancer drugs and heart and blood pressure medicines.
  • People older than 65 were most likely to be hospitalized for side effects or medication-related injuries; however, young people were also at risk -- one in five emergency cases related to medication problems were children or teenagers.

Source: Tara Parker Pope, "Medication-Related Injuries on the Rise," New York Times, April 14, 2011.  Jennifer Lucado, Kathryn Paez and Anne Elixhauser, "Medication-Related Adverse Outcomes in U.S. Hospitals and Emergency Departments, 2008," Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, April 2011.

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