CDC Reports Four Drugs To Blame for Majority of E.R. Visits

(November 27, 2011) A study this week by researchers from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that there are four drugs (and drug classes) mainly responsible for emergency room visits in the U.S.  These include warfarin, oral antiplatelet medications, insulins, and oral hypoglycemic agents. The study also suggested that with better management of anti-thrombotic and anti-diabetic medications, thousands of emergency room admissions can be avoided.

 

The study published this Thursday, in the New England Journal of Medicine, alerts doctors and patients of a few warnings:  the first is adverse reactions to medication, and the second is unintentional overdoses.

 

Researchers say nearly 100,000 hospitalizations annually are linked to adverse drug incidents such as allergic reactions, as well as unintentional overdoses.  Nearly 48% of those hospitalized were adults 80 years old or more.

 

“These data findings suggest that focusing safety initiatives on a few medicines that commonly cause serious, measurable harms can improve care for many older Americans,” said lead study author Dr. Daniel Budnitz, director of CDC’s medication safety program. “Blood thinners and diabetes medicines often require blood testing and dosing changes, but these are critical medicines for older adults with certain medical conditions.”

 

“Of the thousands of medications available to older patients, a small group of blood thinners and diabetes medications caused a high proportion of emergency hospitalizations for adverse drug events among elderly Americans,” Budnitz added.

 

“The most significant finding of this study was the thousands of medicines available to older Americans, it’s really a small group that causes two-thirds of the hospitalizations,” he tells WebMD. The blood thinner warfarin, insulin, oral anti-platelets such as aspirin, and oral diabetes drugs led the list. “Both blood thinners and diabetes medicines are critical drugs that can be lifesaving,” Budnitz says. He also said that “these are medications that you do need to pay attention to,” making sure the dose and timing are correct, among other measures. High-risk medications, such as narcotics, only account for about 1% of the hospitalizations, as found by the researchers.

 

To sum it up, the medications most often responsible for emergency hospitalizations for adverse drug incidents in people ages 65 and older were: warfarin, insulins, oral antiplatelet agents, and oral hypoglycemic agents. Whether taken alone or in combination with other medications, these drugs accounted for 33%, 14%, 13% and 11% of the hospitalizations, respectively. Better management could help avoid thousands of emergency admissions for adverse drug events in older adults every year, according to the research. The researchers estimated that 265,802 visits to the E.R. for adverse drug incidents occurred from 2007 to 2009 in adults aged 65 and older. More than one third of these visits (or nearly 100,000) required hospitalization.

 

This is an important study, and will benefit tens of thousands of Americans, especially as Americans are living longer.  The rate of chronic conditions increases and people need to take more medications.  Since blood thinners and diabetes medications are critical medications for many older adults, careful monitoring and awareness will be crucial in managing the safety and well-being of our aging population.

 

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