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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Most Drug-Related Hospitalizations Due to Handful of Drugs

Blood Thinners and Diabetes Drugs Are Among Causes of Many Emergency Hospitalizations

Second Opinion

The list of drugs involved in bad events does not surprise Michael Cohen, RPh, MS, ScD, president of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices. The nonprofit organization is involved in education efforts about safe use of medicines.

"Sixty five percent of the drugs they have listed at the top [of the list of most often involved] are the ones we are studying on our high-alert drug list," Cohen tells WebMD.

The institute has developed patient education sheets on these so-called high-alert drugs. It hopes to convince pharmacists nationwide to use them. According to the institute, these high-alert medicines are safe and effective. However, the medicines can cause serious injury if a mistake happens while taking them. In its patient education sheets, the institute tells patients how to avoid serious side effects.

Avoiding these bad events from drugs, Cohen says, boils down to better patient education.

Laws differ among states as to mandates about patient counseling by the pharmacist, Cohen says. For instance, he says, sometimes pharmacists are required to offer patients counseling about a new prescription. Patients are not bound to accept the offer.

As a result, he says, some patients "walk out of the pharmacy without knowing how to take the drug, what to do if they miss a dose."

Reducing Risk

Patients or their caregivers can do a lot to minimize the risk of a bad event related to a medication, Cohen and Budnitz say.

  • Before you leave the pharmacy (or when you get a drug in the mail) be sure your name is on the container's label.
  • Be sure the right drug name is on the label. Check that it is the strength prescribed for you.
  • Report back to your doctor for blood tests when told to do so. "Blood thinners and diabetes medicines require some blood testing to adjust the dose," Budnitz says. If a patient skips a blood test, he may possibly be on a dose that is too high and not realize it.
  • Know which side effects are associated with each medicine. Ask which ones require checking in with your doctor.
  • Do not take other medicines without discussing them with your doctor.
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