Medication side effects, injuries up dramatically

Research Activities, June 2011, No. 370

The number of people treated in U.S. hospitals for illnesses and injuries from taking medicines jumped 52 percent between 2004 and 2008—from 1.2 million to 1.9 million—according to the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. These medication side effects and injuries resulted from taking or being given the wrong medicine or dosage.

The Federal agency also found that in 2008:

  • The top five categories of medicines that had more than 838,000 people treated and released from emergency departments were: 
    1. unspecified medicines (261,600); 
    2. painkillers (118,100); 
    3. antibiotics (95,100);
    4. tranquilizers and antidepressants (79,300); 
    5. corticosteroids and other hormones (71,400).
  • For patients admitted to the hospital, the top five categories causing side effects and injuries were 
    1. corticosteroids—used for such illnesses as asthma, arthritis, ulcerative colitis, and other conditions (283,700); 
    2. painkillers (269,400); 
    3. blood-thinners (218,800); 
    4. drugs to treat cancer and immune system disorders (234,300); and 
    5. heart and blood pressure medicines (191,300).
  • More than half (53 percent) of hospitalized patients treated for side effects or other medication-related injuries were aged 65 or older, 
    • 30 percent were 45 to 64, 
    • 14 percent between 18 and 44, and 
    • 3 percent under age 18. Children and teenagers accounted for 22 percent of emergency cases.
  • About 57 percent of the hospitalized patients and 61 percent of emergency department cases were female.

This AHRQ News and Numbers is based on data in Medication-Related Adverse Outcomes in U.S. Hospitals and Emergency Departments, 2008 (available at http://www.hcup-us.ahrq.gov/reports/statbriefs/sb109.jsp). The report uses data from the agency's 2008 Nationwide Inpatient Sample and 2008 Nationwide Emergency Department Sample. For information about these two AHRQ databases, go to Databases and Related Tools from HCUP: Fact Sheet .

For more information, contact Bob Isquith at Bob.Isquith@ahrq.hhs.gov or call (301-427-1539).

Current as of June 2011
Internet Citation: Medication side effects, injuries up dramatically: Research Activities, June 2011, No. 370. June 2011. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/news/newsletters/research-activities/jun11/0611RA28.html