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Fatal Prescription Drug Errors Soar

Findings suggest that the trend is linked to more potent medicines being taken at home rather than in hospitals.

Accidental deaths caused by people improperly taking medications rose by more than 700 percent from 1983 to 2004, according to a new analysis of all U.S. death certificates issued in that period.

Excluding deaths by suicide or side effects, researchers from the University of California, San Diego, focused on fatal medication errors at home, primarily from overdoses and mixing prescription drugs—especially painkillers—with alcohol and street drugs. The steepest increase in deaths (890 percent) was among people in their 40s and 50s.

The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine on July 28, suggests the trend is linked to potent medicines once administered in hospitals but now prescribed mainly for home use, with more responsibility on the patient.

For information on how to take drugs wisely, see AARP's Using Medications Wisely.

Patricia Barry is a senior editor at AARP Bulletin Today.

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