For most people, drug overdoses are associated with people who regularly and intentionally abuse drugs. Most people don’t know that in the U.S., the vast majority of drug overdoses are unintentional, occurring because of prescription errors or mistakes made while taking the drugs. In fact, the CDC reports that in 2013, more than 80 percent of drug overdoses were unintentional: that’s nearly 36,000 deaths that occurred that year because of medication errors. What’s more, about 700,000 emergency room visits and 120,000 hospitalizations occur each year as a result of “adverse drug events,” also known as ADEs, caused by errors in prescriptions or dosing, making unintentional overdoses a major personal safety issue.
- More rapid development and introduction of new medications
- New applications for existing medications
- Increased use of medications for preventing disease
The CDC also points to the burgeoning population of older Americans who are far more likely to take multiple medications, leading to interactions or misdosing that can in turn cause serious injury or even death.
The CDC also notes that many insurance companies are providing more coverage for additional medications – that’s a good thing, but it also means patients need to be extra vigilant. When taking multiple medications, it is crucial to get all of the medication information from the doctor to avoid errors in dosing.
Drug interaction has become a significant personal safety issue in recent years as more and more Americans turn to drugs to treat and prevent illness. Today, about 82 percent of Americans take at least one medication – that’s more than eight out of every 10 people – and nearly a third take five medications or more. Many people who take medications also take vitamins or herbal supplements, which can also cause dangerous reactions.
More than 40 percent of ADEs are preventable as long as patients and caregivers have access to the correct medication information. That means patients or caregivers must be sure to tell doctors about every medication they’re taking, even nutritional supplements and over-the-counter pain relievers. Preventing ADEs requires patients ask questions about dosing, and when prescriptions are sent electronically it means getting a printout of dosing instructions to check dosing and medication information against the label once they get home.
For parents and caregivers of small children, it is important to store prescription drugs properly, preferably in locked cabinets out of reach, and it is also important to properly dispose of all prescription drugs.
Used correctly, and safely, today’s medications can do wonderful things for treating and preventing illness and improving quality of life. To protect your personal safety, whenever you’re given a prescription, be sure to review medication information with your doctor or pharmacist and discuss any other medications or supplements you’re taking to avoid accidental overdose. If a medication makes you feel odd, call your doctor immediately to avoid potentially serious problems.