Older adults account for over half of ED adverse drug reactions visits

Of the estimated 2.2 million visits made to the emergency department by patients for adverse reactions to medications in 2008, older adults--those age 50 or above--accounted for more than half (51.5 percent) of those visits, according to a new study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Of all ED visits involving adverse reactions among older adults, most were related to pharmaceuticals only (98.9 percent), while a small percentage (1.1 percent) involved a combination of alcohol and pharmaceuticals. No differences were seen by age group, according to the statistics from Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), a public health surveillance system that monitors drug-related emergency department (ED) visits.

Many of the visits by older individuals (79.5 percent, or 873,975 visits) involved only one pharmaceutical, 13.7 percent involved two pharmaceuticals, and 6.8 percent involved three or more pharmaceuticals.

The leading kinds of drugs involved in adverse drug reaction cases among older adults were ventral nervous system (CNS) drugs--such as pain relievers and those used to treat anxiety and insomnia. They were reported among 24.3 percent of the cases.

The second most commonly found medications involved in ED visits for adverse reactions varied by age group. For those aged 50 to 64, anti-infection medications were the second most commonly involved medication group, followed by cardiovascular system medications and drugs for metabolic disorders.

For those aged 65 or older, blood modifiers were the second most commonly involved type of medications, followed by cardiovascular system medications and anti-infection medications.

Nearly two-thirds of older adults who visited the ED for adverse drug reactions were treated and released (64.2 percent), while nearly one-third were admitted to the hospital (32.9 percent).

For more details:
- read the SAMHSA report (.pdf)