06:44am Monday 01 June 2020

Adverse reactions to medications account for over 1.1 million emergency department visits by older Americans each year

Adults aged 50 and older comprise 51.5 percent of all emergency department visits each year related to adverse reactions to medications, according to a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The report says 61.5 percent were made by people aged 65 or older and 60.9 percent involved women.

Nearly 8 in 10 of the hospital visits by older patients involved adverse reactions to just one medication they had taken, the report said. Central nervous system drugs such as narcotic and non-narcotic pain relievers accounted for the largest share of these visits (24.3 percent).  But cases included a broad range of medications, including central nervous system drugs, blood modifiers, cardiovascular system medications, metabolic disorder treatments, and psychotherapeutic drugs.

The study showed 32.9 percent of these visits to hospital emergency departments by those aged 50 and older resulted in hospitalizations for further treatment. However, the level of hospitalization differed considerably between those aged 50 to 64 (25.5 percent) and those aged 65 and older (37.6 percent).

These findings highlight the greater potential risk older Americans face from adverse reactions to medicines because of physiological changes, the concurrent use of multiple medications, and other factors. These risks may pose an even greater public health challenge as the number of older Americans continues to grow in decades to come. 

“Individuals taking medications need to take personal responsibility and not assume that just because the medications are legally prescribed that they are without risk,” said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde. “People should monitor how they feel when on medication, ask their doctor about what signs to look out for, and not hesitate to contact a doctor if they feel the medication is having adverse effects on their health.”

Emergency Department Visits Involving Adverse Reactions to Medications among Older Adults, was developed as part of the agency’s strategic initiative on data, quality and outcomes. It is based on data from SAMHSA’s 2008 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN). DAWN is a public health surveillance system that monitors drug-related hospital emergency department visits reported throughout the nation.

A copy of the report is accessible at: http://www.oas.samhsa.gov/2k11/DAWN013/AdverseReactionsOlderAdults_HTML.pdf


SAMHSA is a public health agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. Its mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities.

Media Contact: SAMHSA Press Office
Telephone: 240-276-2130

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