Medication Reactions Cause 1.1 Million Hospital Visits

May 20, 2011, 10:40 AM HST
* Updated May 23, 8:25 PM
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Kupuna visit the emergency room frequently for matters related to medicine management. Photo courtesy of MCOA.

By Robin G. Pilus

According to a report recently issued by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA), Adults 50+ years comprise 51.1% of all emergency department visits each year related to adverse reactions to medications.

The report says 61.5% were made by people 65 or older and 60.9% involved women.  Nearly one third of these visits by older patients end up with hospital admissions for follow up and treatment.

Central nervous system drugs such as narcotic and non-narcotic pain relievers accounted for the largest share of these visits, but cases included a wide range of medications including central nervous system drugs, blood modifiers, metabolic disorder and psychotherapeutic drugs.

These findings highlight the greater potential risk older Americans face from adverse reactions to medicines because of physiological changes, the concurrent use of multiple medications, and other factors. These risks may pose an even greater public health challenge as the number of older Americans continues to grow in decades to come.


“Individuals taking medications need to take personal responsibility and not assume that just because the medications are legally prescribed that they are without risk,” said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde. “People should monitor how they feel when on medication, ask their doctor about what signs to look out for, and not hesitate to contact a doctor if they feel the medication is having adverse effects on their health.”


A detailed report, Emergency Department Visits Involving Adverse Reactions to Medications among Older Adults,  has been developed as part of the agency’s strategic initiative on data, quality and outcomes.  It is based on data from SAMHSA’s 2008 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN). DAWN is a public health surveillance system that monitors drug-related hospital emergency department visits reported throughout the nation.

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