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

83, and Dec. 31, 2004, 224,355 of them involving fatal medication errors (FMEs). After examining all of these documents, the authors discovered that the overall death rate from fatal medical errors increased by 360.5 percent during that time period.

The surge in FMEs differed by type. FMEs occurring at home and combined with alcohol and/or street drugs increased the most, by 3,196 percent. FMEs not happening at home and not involving alcohol and/or street drugs showed the smallest increase, at 5 percent.

Meanwhile, at-home FMEs not involving alcohol and/or street drugs increased by 564 percent, while at-home FMEs involving alcohol or street drugs increased by 555 percent.

Overall, the increase in FMEs was particularly pronounced among people aged 40 to 59, where the increase was 890.8 percent.

Dr. Andrew Kolodny, chairman of psychiatry at Maimonides Medical Center in New York City, believes most of the deaths can be attributed to misuse of prescription opioid pain medications and that, in turn, is probably due to wider prescribing by doctors of such drugs.

"Prescribing practices have changed to the point where physicians
 are much more liberal, largely through marketing," Kolodny said. "We've trained a whole generation of physicians to believe that if you prescribe opioids to patients who have legitimate pain that there's little or no risk of addiction or misuse. I think we have to provide physicians and the public with better education about the true risks of some of these medications."

For his part, Phillips agreed that the focus of concern has shifted to the outpatient arena.

"People should no longer just focus on medication errors in clinical settings and caused by clinical staff," Phillips said. "There's a whole new world out there that needs to be investigated, that is to say, fatal medication errors occurring at home and not in clinical settings, and apparently influenced by patients
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