According to the New York Time, 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. 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, compared with 1.2 million injured in 2004, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
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 A.H.R.Q. data measure only patients treated in the hospital or emergency department as a result of a medication error. The data don’t distinguish between prescribing, dispensing or consumer errors. Some of the errors resulted from a physician prescribing the wrong drug or dose; others occurred because a pharmacist or nurse gave the wrong drug, or because a patient at home used the wrong type or dose of medication.
In 2006, the Institute of Medicine issued a report citing medication mistakes as the most common medical errors, resulting in an estimated $3.5 billion in added costs for lost wages, productivity and additional health care expenses. The committee said the problem could be solved with improvements in communication between health care professionals and patients, as well as the creation of consumer-friendly information resources for patients to obtain drug information. The report called for more electronic prescriptions and said better naming, labeling and packaging of many drugs was needed to reduce confusion and prevent errors.
The A.H.R.Q. 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. The drugs typically are 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.