Injuries, Deaths Tied to Consumer Drugs Rise Sharply

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter
Monday, September 10, 2007; 12:00 AM

MONDAY, Sept. 10 (HealthDay News) -- The number of serious adverse drug events more than double between 1998 and 2005 in the United States, as did the number of related deaths, a new study found.

"This is the first study to ask the question, 'Are we gaining ground or losing ground in drug safety and improving patient safety in prescription drugs?' And I think, inescapably, the conclusion is that we're losing ground," said study lead author Thomas Moore, of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, in Huntingdon Valley, Pa.

"This is a subject the public or health professionals just don't like to think about," Moore added. "Doctors don't like to think that what they're doing could be hurting patients. The pharmaceutical industry wants the public focused on benefits, and many people just want to believe this drug is going to help them. We need to focus on this problem. We can manage the risks of prescription drugs if we start to pay attention."

The study results are published in the Sept. 10 issue of theArchives of Internal Medicine.

This is not the first peek into drug-safety issues in the United States. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently unveiled a set of initiatives intended to counter growing criticism of its operations and to bolster the country's health safety net. The recommendations include a pilot project to assess the safety of drugs after they're on the market, as well as initiatives to improve communication both within and without the agency.

Many of the initiatives are in response to recommendations in an Institute of Medicine report issued in 2006 and prepared at the request of the FDA. Those recommendations included a push for stronger post-marketing surveillance of approved drugs.

For the new study, Moore and his colleagues analyzed all serious adverse drug events and medication errors reported to the FDA from 1998 to 2005.

A serious adverse drug event, as defined by the FDA, means an adverse event that results in death, a birth defect, disability, hospitalization or is life-threatening or requires intervention to prevent harm. The events are reported voluntarily to the FDA either directly by or through drug manufacturers, who are required to forward any reports.

From 1998 to 2005, the number of reported serious adverse drug events increased 2.6-fold from 34,966 in 1998 to 89,842 in 2005. The number of fatal adverse drug events increased 2.7-fold during the same time period, from 5,519 in 1998 to 15,107 in 2005.

The number of adverse events increased four times faster than the total number of outpatient prescriptions, which rose from 2.7 billion to 3.8 billion during that time frame.

Although a total of 1,489 drugs were associated with adverse events, a subset of 51 drugs accounted for a large proportion of the problem: Each had 500 or more reports in any given year. This group of drugs accounted for 43.6 percent of the total adverse event reports.

Drugs related to safety withdrawals were a small part of the picture and, within the subset of 500 drugs, declined from 26 percent of all reported events in 1999 to less than 1 percent in 2005.


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