A recent study suggests that the usual concentration on hospital medication errors may be overlooking a much more serious problem. From Jan. 1, 1983 to Dec. 31, 2004 the amount of deaths caused by mismanagement of prescription medications at home increased six-fold. “The decades-long shift in the location of medication consumption from clinical to domestic settings is linked to a dramatic increase in fatal medication errors,” they said. This “six-fold” figure, however, is nothing compared to deaths due to mixing legal medications with street drugs, reported David Phillips, Ph.D., and colleagues at the University of California San Diego in the July 28 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine. The following is an excerpt of an article from Medpage Today that reviews the findings:
Ledger, who starred as the Joker in the just-released Batman movie, died in his New York apartment in January, with the cause given as a combination of pain killers, sleeping pills, and anti-anxiety medications. There was no evidence of street drugs or alcohol.
Such polypharmacy may be one of the reasons fatal drug errors in the home have risen, the researchers said, while the lack of direct supervision by a clinician and the increasing number of drugs sold over the counter are others.
To quantify the issue, the researchers classified fatal medication errors, as recorded on the death certificates, into four groups:
* Type one deaths occurred in the patient’s home and involved medications and street drugs and/or alcohol.
* Type two deaths occurred in the patient’s home without street drugs or alcohol.
* Both types three and four deaths did not take place in the patient’s home, with the difference being the presence or absence of alcohol and/or street drugs.