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Fatal Medication Errors Surge Since 1983

Increases particularly high for incidents at home and those involving alcohol or street drugs

MONDAY, July 28 (HealthDay News) -- The death rate due to fatal medication errors rose sharply between 1983 and 2004, with particularly steep increases in incidents in the home and deaths from a combination of medications and alcohol or street drugs, according to research published in the July 28 Archives of Internal Medicine.

David P. Phillips, Ph.D., of the University of California at San Diego, in La Jolla and colleagues analyzed U.S. death certificates from 1983 through 2004, focusing on those acknowledging fatal medication errors (FMEs) and noting whether the events occurred at home or elsewhere and whether alcohol or street drugs were contributory causes of death.

The overall FME death rate rose 360.5 percent. FMEs that occurred at home and involved alcohol or street drugs had the largest increase, 196 percent. By 2004, FMEs were the cause of many more years of potential life lost than accidents from falls, firearms, drowning, fires and nonmedication poisonings together, the authors write.

"We found that FMEs increase most steeply in domestic settings, where professional oversight is least likely. This provides fresh evidence for (1) evaluating patients' capacity to manage their own medicines, (2) educating patients about the risks associated with their prescriptions, and (3) monitoring patient performance. It may be appropriate to include not only physicians and nurses but also pharmacists in these efforts," the authors write.

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