Blood thinners, diabetes drugs among leading causes for medication-related ER visits, study finds

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Oct. 5 (UPI) — Taking blood-thinners and diabetes drugs at higher-than-recommended doses or in error often leads to health complications that bring older adults to hospital emergency rooms, a study published Tuesday by JAMA found.

Adults age 65 and older account for nearly 28,000, or one-third, of the roughly 97,000 emergency room visits related to “medication harms” annually in the United States, the data showed.

Medication harms include people taking their medications in higher-than-recommended doses, taking medications prescribed for others or using medications to treat conditions for which the drugs have not been approved.

Of the 28,000 trips to the emergency room, roughly half result in hospital admissions, according to the researchers.

Anticoagulants — blood thinners to prevent blood clots — account for nearly 15% of emergency room visits related to medication harms, while pain medications make up 14%.

Sedatives used to treat mental health and behavior disorders are involved in about 12% of medication-related ER visits, and diabetes drugs are implicated in about 10%, the data showed.

“Among patients 45 years of age and older, therapeutic use of anticoagulants, or blood thinners, and diabetes medications were the most common causes of [ER] visits for medication-related harms,” study co-author Dr. Dan Budnitz told UPI in an email.

“The rate of visits for harms due to therapeutic medication use increases with age, peaking among those 75 years of age or older,” said Budnitz, who is director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office of Medication Safety.

Some medication misuse may be intentional and linked with acts of “self-harm,” such as attempted suicide, according to Budnitz and his colleagues.

However, in some cases, medications may be prescribed or used in error, they said.

Self-harm accounts for nearly 14,000, or about 13%, of medication-related ER visits each year, but “therapeutic use,” or intentional use of prescribed drugs, makes up more than 66,000, or nearly 70%.

Harms related to therapeutic use of drugs include side effects, which lead to roughly one-third of medication-related ER visits annually. Allergic reactions are involved in about 14%, the researchers said.

Medication errors, or not taking drugs at the recommended dose or on the prescribed schedule, account for 6% of these ER visits, according to the researchers.

The findings are based on an analysis of patient data from 60 hospital emergency departments participating in the CDC’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System-Cooperative Adverse Drug Event Surveillance Project between 2017 and 2019, they said.

These projects track injuries and drug-related health reports nationally, the CDC said.

“Improved labeling can be part of the answer to reducing medication-related harms. Clearly identifying active ingredients and dosing instructions can help individuals choose the best medication and administer the correct dose,” Budnitz said.

“However, most emergency department visits for medication-related harms would not be prevented by labeling changes alone. Identifying the most common medication-related harms for patients of different ages can help target prevention efforts,” he said.

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