Each year, there are nearly 100,000 emergency hospitalizations for adverse drug events in U.S. adults aged 65 years or older, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Of the thousands of medications available to patients, a small group of blood thinners and diabetes medications caused two-thirds of the emergency hospitalizations, the report said.  

“These data suggest that focusing safety initiatives on a few medicines that commonly cause serious, measurable harms can improve care for many older Americans,” said Dan Budnitz, M.D., M.P.H., director of CDC′s Medication Safety Program.

“Blood thinners and diabetes medicines often require blood testing and dosing changes, but these are critical medicines for older adults with certain medical conditions.  Doctors and patients should continue to use these medications but remember to work together to safely manage them,” Budnitz said.

The study used data collected between 2007 and 2009 from a nationally representative sample of 58 hospitals. Almost half (48.1 percent) of these hospitalizations occur among adults aged 80 years or older, and two–thirds (65.7 percent) of the hospitalizations were due to overdoses, or to situations in which patients may have taken the prescribed amount of medication but the drug had more than the intended effect on the patient′s body. 

Four medications, used alone or together, accounted for two–thirds of the emergency hospitalizations:

    • 33 percent, or 33,171 emergency hospitalizations, involved warfarin, a medication used to prevent blood clots.
    • 14 percent involved insulins.  Insulin injections are used to control blood sugar in people who have diabetes.
    • 13 percent involved antiplatelet drugs, such as aspirin or clopidogrel, which prevent platelets, or pieces of blood cells from clumping together to start a clot.
    • 11 percent involved diabetes medications that are taken by mouth, called oral hypoglycemic agents.


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