Hospitalizations Due to Drug Side Effects Are Rising Dramatically

Nearly two million Americans were hospitalized in 2008 as a result of prescription drug side effects - and more than 50,000 died. That's a nearly 70 percent increase in prescription drug-related admissions from 2004. What's most alarming is that 92 percent of these admissions happened when the medications were being taken as prescribed, but the side effects, including allergic reactions, were serious enough to send them to the emergency room.

Why are Drugs Intended to Heal Actually Hurting Patients?

According to a recent article in the American Medical News, opiates and opioids are responsible for a majority of medication errors leading to drug-related hospital admissions. This class of painkillers, which includes morphine and codeine, were responsible for more than 121,000 admissions in 2008. So severe is the problem that the White House has dubbed it "America's Prescription Drug Abuse Crisis."

Eliminating Medication Errors in the Future

Many of drug-related hospitalizations can be traced to drug interactions. Patients - and patients' family members - should be conscientious about alerting doctors to all prescriptions they are taking, especially when several doctors are involved. It's also a good idea to verify the side effects and possible drug interactions with your pharmacist when you fill the prescription.

However, patient vigilance is not enough. The Obama Administration proposed that all 50 states adopt a prescription drug monitoring program, to help prevent "doctor shopping" (patients getting opiates or other medications from more than one doctor at the same time) as well as to create a referral database for doctors, listing all prescriptions a patient may be taking, even if he or she didn't prescribe them.

The plan also calls for physician education programs about prescribing opiates as well as national public campaign about how to use, store and dispose of prescription drugs.

Physicians React

Although American Medical Association President, Cecil B. Wilson, MD, does not like the idea of mandated physician education, Perry G. Fine, MD, president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine was quoted in the American Medical News article as saying that "physician training on prescribing opiates is long overdue. "It's clear that something needs to be done to curb prescription drug-related hospital admissions.