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Bad medicine

Medication reactions send 700,000 Americans a year to emergency rooms

Wednesday, October 18, 2006 by: Ben Kage
Tags: bad medicine, drug side effects, adverse drug reactions


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(NewsTarget) According to a federal study in today's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, adverse reactions to prescription drugs are responsible for 700,000 Americans' visits to emergency rooms every year.

The report was put together by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the FDA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and included data collected in 2004 and 2005 from 63 hospitals in the United States. Similar studies have been conducted previously, but this is the first to include national figures in order to identify which specific drugs were the most problematic.

For example, the safety margins of blood thinner warfarin, the diabetes drug insulin, and heart medication digoxin were narrow, according to the researchers, leading those three to be responsible for one-third of the drug related emergency visits in people older than 65. Patients older than 65 were more than twice as likely to need emergency care for a drug reaction than younger patients, and almost seven times as likely to require hospitalization for the reaction. Warfarin and insulin were at the top of the list of drugs causing adverse reactions, followed by aspirin and the antibiotics amoxicillin and trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole. The study also found that 16 of the top 18 drugs related to adverse reactions have been used for more than 20 years.

Lead author Dr. Daniel Budnitz, a CDC epidemiologist, maintained that the drugs causing adverse reactions were "good, life-saving drugs" but that the medical community needed to be more careful monitoring and working with patients, according to the findings.

The report stated that allergic reactions were the most prevalent of adverse events, then unintentional overdoses. Adverse drug reactions accounted for 2.5 percent of unintentional-injury-related emergency room visits overall, and for 6.7 percent of injuries requiring hospitalization. Elderly patients were almost as likely to need emergency treatment for adverse drug reactions as they are for a motor vehicle injury, Budnitz said.

"I think it is a big problem," said Dr. David Bates of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, previously conducted research into the subject. "The absolute number of patients identified in the study is high."

According to Bates, many of the drug reactions were preventable though more careful prescribing, and lower amounts being prescribed to elderly patients, who are at a higher risk of kidney problems and other health complications, might reduce overdose numbers.

"These toxic reactions to prescription drugs make perfect sense once you realize what these drugs are actually made of," said Mike Adams, a consumer health advocate and critic of dangerous prescription drugs. "Common blood thinner drugs, for example, are made of warfarin, a rat poison chemical. These chemicals kill rats by causing massive internal bleeding, and yet patients happily swallow this poison on the advice of a doctor, and then wonder why they end up in the emergency room."

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