Medication deaths skyrocket

Fatal medication overdoses involving alcohol and street drugs skyrocket. The data also supports assertions that, despite conventional wisdom focusing on young people, baby boomers account for a significant portion of drug problems in the US:

According to background information in the paper, published in the July 28 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, there has recently been a dramatic shift in fatal overdoses away from inpatient settings to outpatient settings. More and more medications are taken outside of the hospital or clinic, with far less oversight from health-care professionals, the researchers said.

At the same time, more medications that once were available only by prescription are now bought over-the-counter, and more people are taking more than one medication.

All of this makes it easier for individuals to combine medications with alcohol and/or street drugs. But despite this shift, few if any studies have looked at drug errors outside clinical settings.

Almost 50 million death certificates were filed in the United States between Jan. 1, 1983, and Dec. 31, 2004, 224,355 of them involving fatal medication errors (FMEs). After examining all of these documents, the authors discovered that the overall death rate from fatal medical errors increased by 360.5 percent during that time period.

The surge in FMEs differed by type. FMEs occurring at home and combined with alcohol and/or street drugs increased the most, by 3,196 percent. [emphasis mine] FMEs not happening at home and not involving alcohol and/or street drugs showed the smallest increase, at 5 percent.

Meanwhile, at-home FMEs not involving alcohol and/or street drugs increased by 564 percent, while at-home FMEs involving alcohol or street drugs increased by 555 percent.

Overall, the increase in FMEs was particularly pronounced among people aged 40 to 59, where the increase was 890.8 percent.