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Accidental Overdoses in the Home Soaring
Date:7/28/2008

Study finds huge increase in number of people dying after mixing meds, illegal drugs

MONDAY, July 28 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers have discovered a soaring increase in the number of fatal medication errors that occur in people's homes.

The report incidentally follows the death earlier this year of Heath Ledger, the 28-year-old actor who died from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs in his apartment in New York City.

"[There was] large-scale evidence that the death rate from prescription errors was going up very fast, but I didn't know until this paper that they were going up extremely fast in particular circumstances, namely at home and when alcohol and/or street drugs are involved," said study author David P. Phillips, a professor of sociology at the University of California at San Diego.

"I also didn't know from this paper that the number of years of potential life lost from potential medication errors are greater than the number of years of potential life lost from all accidents combined, including falls and drowning," he said.

According to background information in the paper, published in the July 28 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, there has recently been a dramatic shift in fatal overdoses away from inpatient settings to outpatient settings. More and more medications are taken outside of the hospital or clinic, with far less oversight from health-care professionals, the researchers said.

At the same time, more medications that once were available only by prescription are now bought over-the-counter, and more people are taking more than one medication.

All of this makes it easier for individuals to combine medications with alcohol and/or street drugs. But despite this shift, few if any studies have looked at drug errors outside clinical settings.

Almost 50 million death certificates were filed in the United States between Jan. 1, 19
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