Just because you take a medication regularly doesn’t mean it is safe. Routinely prescribed and even over-the-counter drugs that many people take daily can send them to the hospital with potentially dire consequences, if any mistakes are made with dosage or timing. Interestingly, it seems that just a few drugs are responsible for the vast majority of emergency hospitalizations for adverse reactions.
Every year, close to 100,000 drug-induced hospital-stays take place across the United States among those 65 or older. Recent research that took place at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta found that there were four main types of drugs that had caused two-thirds of those medication-related hospitalizations.1
Unfortunately, the researchers found that the top culprits are among the most commonly taken medications. They include warfarin, which is a blood thinner, insulin, aspirin and other anti-platelet drugs, and oral diabetes medications. The drugs one might guess would be the worst offenders, such as highly addictive narcotics, were only responsible for approximately one percent of the hospitalizations analyzed. Maybe the more standard types of medications lead to problems because they are taken so often that their users feel comfortable with them and stop being careful after a while. But clearly they can all be extremely dangerous.
The study was based on records compiled from 58 hospitals around the U.S. between 2007 and 2009. The scientists examined the frequency of hospitalizations for senior citizens that took place after emergency room visits due to drug reactions. They concluded that nearly 266,000 medication-related emergency room visits occurred each year for this population. More than one-third of these — close to 100,000 instances — ended in hospitalization. And nearly two-thirds of these hospitalizations took place because there was an accidental overdose of a medication.
Warfarin, typically prescribed for those with heart disease to prevent blood clots, was hands down the biggest cause of hospitalization, accounting for 33 percent (33,171 hospitalizations) of those analyzed by the researchers. Rounding out the rest of the top four were insulin at 14 percent (13,854 hospitalizations), oral anti-platelet drugs at 13 percent (13,263 hospitalizations), and oral diabetes drugs at 11 percent (10,656 hospitalizations).
The problem was also determined to be greater with the oldest subjects. Approximately half of the emergency room visits that required hospitalization were for those patients at least 80 years old. This begs the question of whether it is truly safe to have the elderly taking dangerous medication on a daily basis. Many are careful and coherent and can easily follow the directions for correct dosing. But what about those who aren’t? In even the early stages of dementia, it would be easy for a patient to forget having taken their drugs that morning and upon seeing them on the counter, feel it necessary to take a dose. Then again, even those with caregivers are at risk, as shifts change for hired health care workers and things don’t always get written down. Adult children caregivers are not infallible either, as they usually have many other responsibilities and may not even be home at dosing times. When a medication is truly a necessity, as for instance insulin can be, the risk may be worth the benefit. But if there are other options available that would preclude the need to take one of these drugs daily, they clearly should be considered as a better alternative.
After all, pharmaceutical drugs, taken as a whole, cause an overwhelming number of deaths and emergencies every year among people of all ages…even when administered correctly. Almost seven percent of all hospitalized patients in the U.S. — or 770,000 patients — have serious adverse drug reactions within hospitals each year. Over a hundred thousand hospitalized patients die annually from drug reactions, and an additional 1.5 million need hospitalization after suffering an adverse drug reaction outside the hospital. Adverse drug reactions comprise the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S…conservatively.
The point is that pharmaceutical medications are not the safest road to health, at any age. And at best, they rarely work to resolve underlying problems. More often than not, they are prescribed purely for symptom management. The medical establishment spends too much focus treating the symptoms of the diseases we inflict upon ourselves through bad diet and unhealthy lifestyle choices. If we address the root causes of disease, we can often rid ourselves of diabetes, heart disease, and other ailments, making the drugs that “control our symptoms” totally unnecessary.
Instead of opting for pharmaceutical drugs, why not choose actual health. Why not choose a program like the Baseline of Health.
1 Budnitz, Daniel S.; Lovegrove, Maribeth C.; Shehab, Nadine; and Richards, Chesley L. “Emergency Hospitalizations for Adverse Drug Events in Older Americans.” The New England Journal of Medicine. 24 November 2011. Massachusetts Medical Society. 20 December 2011. <http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsa1103053>.