Visitors to ER for Medication Reactions Mostly Over 50

Americans 50 and over are more likely to end up in the emergency room seeking treatment for adverse reactions to medication, MyHealthNews Daily reported March 10.

A new analysis of visits to emergency rooms in the U.S. in 2008 conducted by the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) – a public health project of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) – found that about half of the 2.1 million visits Americans made to emergency rooms for adverse reactions to medications, or about 1.1 million visits, were made by people age 50 and older. Of that group of visits, about 61 percent were made by individuals 65 and older, of whom 60.9 percent were women.

Most emergency room visitors 50 and older were treated and released, but nearly a third (32.9 percent) were hospitalized. According to SAMHSA, 25.5 percent of those between 50 and 64 were hospitalized, whereas 37.6 percent of those 65 and older had to be hospitalized.

Researchers said that older Americans tended to have more adverse reactions than younger people because of decreased kidney and liver function, and because they were more likely to take more than one medication at a time. Adverse reactions are expected to become even more common as the number of older Americans grows.  

Only 1.1 percent of emergency room visits by Americans 50 and over were linked to pharmaceuticals and alcohol – the rest were for medications alone. Almost 8 in 10 (or 79.5 percent) visits were linked to reactions to a single medication.

Drugs affecting the central nervous system – predominantly pain relievers, but also drugs for anxiety and insomnia – accounted for the biggest percentage (24.3 percent) of emergency room visits by older Americans. Other drugs contributed, however, including blood modifiers, cardiovascular system medications, metabolic disorder treatments, and psychotherapeutic drugs.

“”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 Pamela S. Hyde, administrator of SAMHSA. “”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.””

The report, “”Emergency Department Visits Involving Adverse Reactions to Medications among Older Adults,”” was published Feb. 24, 2011 by the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN).

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