Study: Accidental drug overdose rates hit new high

A new study suggests that deaths from medical mistakes at home have gone up substantially over the last two decades, driven largely by growing home use of prescription painkillers and other drugs that were once used largely in hospitals. According to the study, which appears in the Archives of Internal Medicine, such deaths have climbed from 1,132 in 1983 to 12,426 in 2004, while medication errors away from home increased only five percent during the same period. (Researchers drew this conclusion based on studies of almost 50 million U.S. death certificates.) Causes for these deaths include abuse of prescription drugs, valid prescriptions taken in error--especially narcotics--and multiple prescription drugs taken at once.

Despite the large data set they had, researchers couldn't determine what proportion of the deaths was attributable to these various causes. However, they suspect that mistakes with valid prescriptions are on the rise. Such mistakes appear to have led to the recent death of 25-year-old actor Heath Ledger.

To learn more about this study:
- read this Associated Press article

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