Drug Side Effects Sending Increasing Number of Seniors to the ER

An increasing number of older people are being sent to the ER due to side effects or adverse reactions from the prescription drugs they are taking.

A new analysis of nearly 42,600 cases from a national database of hospitals looked at changes in ER visits, comparing numbers from 2005 and 2006, to 2013 and 2014.

In 2013 and 2014, there were about 4 ER visits for an adverse drug events occurred per 1,000 people each year. Also, 27% of those adverse event ER trips resulted in hospitalization, according to research published in JAMA.

Older adults were prone to serious side effects. About 35 percent of ER visits for adverse events were for adults aged 65 years or older in 2013-2014, compared with to 26% in 2005-2006.

Seniors also experienced the highest hospitalization rate of any age group at 44%.
Interestingly, drugs associated with the Beers Criteria – a list of drugs to be avoided in most seniors – accounted for almost 2% of ER visits.

Overall, anticoagulants (blood thinners), antibiotics, and diabetes agents were involved in an estimated 47% of prescription-drug related ED visits. Some of the adverse events were quite serious and included hemorrhage (anticoagulants), moderate to severe allergic reactions (antibiotics), and hypoglycemia with moderate to severe neurological effects (diabetes drugs).

Researchers also noted that from 2005-2006, the proportions of ED visits for adverse drug events from anticoagulants and diabetes agents have increased, whereas the proportion from antibiotics has decreased.

Among children aged 5 years or younger, antibiotics were the most common drug class associated with adverse events requiring an ER visit (56 %). Among those 6 to 19 years old, antibiotics was the No. 1 culprit for a trip to the ER (32%) due to serious side effects, followed by antipsychotics (4.5%)


Jonathan Block

Jonathan Block is a freelance writer and former MedShadow content editor. He has been an editor and writer for multiple pharmaceutical, health and medical publications, including BioCentury, The Pink Sheet, Modern Healthcare, Health Plan Week and Psychiatry Advisor. He holds a BA from Tufts University and is earning an MPH with a focus on health policy from the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy.


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