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Thursday, January 20, 2005

More on Drugs and Death

According to research, deaths attributed to medication errors rise by as much as 25 percent above normal in the first few days of every month. This study is the first to document a beginning-of-the-month boost in deaths associated with mistakes in prescription drugs.

The Problem

The primary culprit behind these death rates: A beginning-of-the-month increase in pharmacy workloads and a consequential increase in their error rates. To offer a further explanation of this occurrence, one sociologist stated, "Government assistance payments to the old, sick and the poor are typically received at the beginning of each month. Because of this, there is a beginning-of-the-month spike in purchases of prescription medications."

However, further findings suggest otherwise.

Researchers examined all United States death certificates from 1970 to 2000 to analyze some 131,000 deaths caused by fatal poisoning accidents from drugs. They found that a small number (3 percent) of the deaths were from adverse effects of the right drug taken at the right dose, while the majority of deaths (97 percent) resulted from medication errors:

* Wrong dose given or taken
* Accidental overdose of a drug
* A drug taken inadvertently

It was also discovered that the beginning-of-the-month spike in deaths was apparent in the young and well as in the elderly and poor, indicating the problem is partially due to pharmacy error.

(The study did not include specific clinical information regarding prescription type, dosage or days supply, nor did it include deaths associated with overdose of street drugs or from intentional poisoning.)

The Solution

In order to reduce the medication-error death rate researchers recommended:

* Pharmacies to consider increasing staffing levels at the beginning of each month
* Government officials to consider spreading assistance payments out over the entire month, rather than the beginning
* Both patients and clinical staff to make a special effort to check the accuracy of their prescriptions at the beginning of each month

Science Daily January 6, 2005

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