Medication errors at home have risen dramatically over the past two decades, according to an analysis of death certificates.
The rise, 360.5 percent, was calculated from 50 million U.S. death certificates reviewed by University of California, San Diego researchers looking at January 1, 1983, to December 31, 2004.
Partially to blame is the availability of prescription drugs, especially painkillers. 25 years ago, they were available only in the hospital.
The findings are published in today’s Archives of Internal Medicine. Among the findings – about 224,000 deaths from prescription medication involved overdoses and mixing prescription drugs with alcohol or other street drugs.
- From 1983 to 2004, deaths from medication taken at home increased from 1,132 to 12,426
- In hospitals during the same time period, there was a 5 percent increase in fatal medication errors
- Methadone and oxycodone account for many of the deaths
- The steepest death rates, 0.04 per 100,000 in 1983 to 1.29 in 2004 – came from mixing medications with alcohol or street drugs at home
- The death rates climbed steepest among baby boomers, ages 40s and 50s
People have no problem with sharing drugs. Dr. J. Lyle Bootman, pharmacy dean at the University of Arizona tells AP that people share prescriptions at an alarming rate. One study finds 23 percent say they’ve loaned out a prescription. 27 percent say they have borrowed prescription drugs.
Since toxicology screening tests have been added to autopsies, more fatal medication errors are being found as well.
The researchers conclude that medication education must also include home use of prescription drugs.
“Dark Knight” star Heath Ledger died from a combination of sleeping pills, painkillers and anti-anxiety drugs on January 22, 2008. A toxicology report found acute intoxication by the combined effects of oxycodone and hydrocodone (painkillers), diazepam (Valium, anti-anxiety), temazepam (sleeping pill), alprazolam (Xanax, anti-anxiety), and doxylamine (antihistamine).
Ledger was said to be suffering from insomnia since his Joker role in “Dark Knight” as well as general anxiety.
In a statement released through Ledger's publicist upon his death, Ledger's father, Kim told CNN, "While no medications were taken in excess, we learned today the combination of doctor-prescribed drugs proved lethal for our boy. Heath's accidental death serves as a caution to the hidden dangers of combining prescription medication, even at low dosage." #