More than 700,000 Americans were sent to emergency rooms each year due to harmful reactions from some of the most widely used medicines, from insulin to a common antibiotic, government research shows.
Accidental overdoses and allergic reactions to prescription drugs were the most frequent cause of serious illnesses, according to the study, the first to reveal the nationwide scope of the problem. People over 65 faced the greatest risks.
Even so, the study authors and other experts agreed that the 700,000 estimate was conservative because bad drug reactions are likely often misdiagnosed.
The study found that a small group of pharmaceutical warhorses were most commonly implicated, including insulin for diabetes; warfarin for clotting problems; and amoxicillin, a penicillin-like antibiotic used for all kinds of infections.
The results, from 2004-05, represent the first two years of data from a national surveillance project on outpatient drug safety. The project was developed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The study was published in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.