Adverse drug events are responsible for a growing number of emergency room visits. This problem is particularly noticeable among adults age 65 and older. Seniors accounted for 44% of the adverse drug events examined in a study recently published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) by Nadine Shehab and colleagues from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Types of Adverse Drug Interactions in Seniors
The JAMA study found that hospitalizations due to adverse drug events nearly doubled among older adults between 2005-2006 and 2013-2014. The study looked at the effects of prescription medicine, over-the-counter drugs, dietary supplements, and homeopathic remedies. However, withdrawal effects, drug failures, intentional self-harm through overdose, and recreational drug use or abuse were specifically excluded from the study.
The most common culprits of adverse drug events in seniors included:
- Blood thinners such as Warfarin, Xarelto, Pradaxa, and Lovenox
- Diabetes treatments such as insulin and metformin
- Opioid pain medication
Specific symptoms of adverse drug interactions often found in seniors include:
- Hemorrhaging and bleeding events
- Digestive disturbances
- Kidney damage
In addition to causing pain and discomfort, these adverse drug interactions can also lead to significant medical expenses that cause financial strain for a senior and his loved ones.
Risk Factors for Seniors
Researchers hypothesized that seniors are more at risk of adverse drug interactions due to the following three factors:
- Complicated drug regimens. Seniors who are required to take multiple pills at different times throughout the day may not fully understand what each medication does. They may also become confused by doses and accidentally skip one pill and take two of another medication.
- Medication errors. Medication may be prescribed with an incorrect dose, since seniors have a different metabolism than younger adults. Also, a side effect of one drug could be mistaken for a symptom of a new condition, and a doctor might prescribe unnecessary medication.
- Multiple pharmacies and doctors. Seniors are more likely to see multiple doctors, and they often use more than one pharmacy to fill their prescriptions. When healthcare providers or pharmacies aren't communicating with each other, medications may be prescribed incorrectly.
Tips for Medication Safety
While the high rate of adverse drug events among seniors is concerning, the good news is that most of these cases can be prevented using simple safety measures. For example:
- Take medication only as directed and follow recommendations to avoid alcohol, if necessary.
- Ask your doctor what to do if you forget a dose. While it’s sometimes acceptable to take a pill later than scheduled, some medications require that you simply skip the missed dose all together.
- Take medications prescribed only to you. Do not borrow pills from friends or family members.
- Consider alternative therapies such as yoga and meditation to reduce reliance on prescription pain relievers. Opioid pain relievers should be a last resort, due to the potential for side effects.
- Do not discontinue medication without a doctor's supervision. If you’re having trouble affording medicine or are bothered by minor side effects such as dry mouth and a queasy stomach, ask your doctor to find an alternative.
- Prepare a list of your medications, and provide every treating healthcare provider with a copy of the list.
- Use a marked pill box to avoid accidentally forgetting doses or taking double doses.
- Use one pharmacy for all your prescriptions, if possible. This will allow the pharmacist to more easily spot any problems that might be caused if medications are taken together.
Medication errors may qualify as malpractice if a doctor was negligent in prescribing the drug or prescribed an incorrect medication or dosage. To learn more about pursuing a malpractice case, please call Neblett, Beard & Arsenault to schedule a free, no-obligation case review.