Why the increase in accidental overdose deaths?

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

Heath Ledger is only one of many to die from an accidental overdose. The July 28, 2008 Archives of Internal Medicine found a 360 percent increase in “Fatal Medical Errors” (FME) between 1983 and 2004. The increased percentage was primarily in those that combine prescription medication with street drugs or alcohol. In 1984 there were 92 deaths reported of this nature. By 2004 the number was 3792.

With more emphasis on outpatient, non-hospital care in the past few years, there is less supervision and more powerful medications given than ever before. So what to do?

  • Take your medication as prescribed. Even too much acetaminophen can cause permanent liver damage.
  • In this case, children are not “small adults”. They have their own set of prescription rules.
  • Keep medications out of children’s reach
  • If you, or a loved one are, even a bit, mentally confused, for whatever the reason, get supervision.
  • Make sure your health-care provider knows all the medication you take including over-the-counter and supplements.
  • Ask before using alcohol with medication
  • Keep medication in the bottle it came in, and clearly marked.
  • Don’t take street drugs

Does anyone have additional advice?

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12 Responses to “Why the increase in accidental overdose deaths?”

  1. asithi Says:

    I want to share a story about my good friend’s mom overdosing on medication. The mom had shingles and was prescribed prescribed pain killers. During last Thanksgiving the mom was acting really strange and seems to be “out of it” – spacey and bumping into things.

    Turns out she was overdosing herself with pain killers by accident. She thought she was suppose to take two prescribed pain killers together three times a day when she was only suppose to take one twice a day and the other one at night to help her sleep. The mom did not understand English too well and the dad (who does understand English) was not paying attention to the instructions from the doctor.

    Now my friend calls the pharmacy or doctor directly whenever her mom gets a new prescription to verify dosage since her dad “cannot be trusted” to watch out for her mom.

    I am so glad that I am not part of the sandwich generation yet.

    asithis last blog post..Turn up the Heat in Our Fat Cells

  2. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    Thanks Asithi,

    Yours is an excellent example of a growing problem with people from other countries that do not fully understand medical instructions. I hope your friend’s mom is ok now. She is lucky to have a concerned daughter.

  3. Peacy Combson Says:

    I had a friend that recently swallowed 4 tablettes everyday, instead 1 every four days. She is at the clinic now, saved in the last moment…..Huh..

    Peacy Combsons last blog post..Women’s sexual dysfunction

  4. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H Says:

    Thanks Peacy,
    If you have any doubt at all about the directions, call the prescriber or the pharmacist. Also you can usually google the medication name and find the usual dosage to see if yours is close.

  5. Craig Sommerdorf Says:

    How about this? Live a healthy and active life style by only consuming foods and drinks that are non-toxic to your body, exercise daily and there will be no need to take any medication, which by the way all medications, be it over the counter or any prescribed by your doctor are all toxic to your body. Toxic food basically includes all processed food, most drinks, fast food, and all meat, dairy, anything with MSG, anything with artificial colors and flavors, sugar, artificial sweeteners and many more things that will harm your body. If you would like to read more about what really killed Heath Ledger, read this… http://www.naturalnews.com/GoogleSearchResults.html?cx=010579349100583850635:w_kzwe9_yca&cof=FORID:11&ie=UTF-8&q=heath+ledger#1339

  6. jhubbard Says:

    Wow. What an an extreme and naive way of thinking. I am a big believer in healthy eating and exercise, and that our habits cause a lot of our diseases, but it’s not even close that this causes all of them. What killed Health Ledger is that he took medications in a lethal dosage regimen.

    From your hypothesis, you don’t need treatment for malaria, just live a healthy and active life. I have plenty of patients that do live the best they can and their blood pressure is still high, or they develop cancer, or glaucoma, or appendicitis. The list is long.

  7. Craig Sommerdorf Says:

    Well most people do not have the will and/or knowledge to avoid toxic foods, drinks and other toxics that they place into and/or on their body or exercise enough. As far as medication, I am referring to medications that people have to take for chronic diseases, high blood pressure being one of them, which can be easily prevented. Most patients would rather take a pill to control their high blood pressure instead of changing their lifestyle, which would actually take some effort on their part. I know my wife and I are not part of the normal population because we do spend a lot time educating ourselves on what is and is not good for your body and I am sure we just put in a lot more effort than the majority of the population to stay healthy. My wife and I do not eat or drink anything that is toxic to our bodies, but the payoff is beyond what most people can even dream of. For years we have had no health issues and we never get sick, not even a cold. Sure I get picked on at work because I will not eat out with my co-workers or eat that homemade desert that someone brought in, but my health is more important to me than taking a bite of that cake or having that soda. But because my co-workers have seen what my own level of fitness is, which I run marathons and never take sick days, along with seeing what I eat can do for me, I have even seen other co-workers changing their own lifestyles and telling me how their health is improving. I am just trying to educate everyone on how they can live healthier and have a better quality of life.

  8. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    It sounds like it is working for you, and I agree. Yours is a great success story. Kudos to you and your wife for a great job. More people do need to take responsibility to for their health. Saying no to the temptations is difficult, but necessary.

    However, if someone does all that they can, and their blood pressure is still high (it happens, due to faulty kidney, or physiological functioning) then taking medication is better than the effects the hypertension does on the body.

    I commend you on a job well done, and being a role model. Keep up the good work. You are an inspiration.

    Thanks for your comments

  9. lhubbard Says:

    Hi! OK, I’ll chime in.

    My personal philosophy is a little different. I would assert that anything–including vitamins–can be “toxic” if taken to the extreme. It’s like that belief that “natural is better”: Poisonous mushrooms are natural.

    The registered dietitians with whom I’ve worked over the years always say the same thing: Think moderation. You don’t have to consider certain foods to be inherently bad and not allowed. Even R.D.s eat sugar every once in a while.

    Now, that said, hey, if tee-totaling works for you and you’re happy with it and enjoying life, then great. But in my opinion, it’s also OK if the rest of us cut ourselves a little slack. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for the other. That’s part of what’s so fun and interesting about this world: We’re all so different.

    But one thing I would take issue with is the idea that medications and meat and dairy are toxic. I don’t believe that’s been shown at all. Then again, the very air we breathe could be considered toxic–particularly in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley (where I lived for a while). To be at their best health there, everyone should probably walk around with oxygen masks. ;-)

    To your health,

    Leigh Ann Hubbard
    Managing Editor
    James Hubbard’s My Family Doctor

  10. Bonnie Sayers (autismfamily) Says:

    I remember hearing on the news that they will have a new way for prescriptions that the Dr uses so there is no confusion with the pharmacy or the patient. I cannot recall what that was, but most likely it was some form of technology.

    I did a google search and it is called e-scribing.


    Bonnie Sayers (autismfamily)s last blog post..Communicating and Planning at Camp

  11. jhubbard Says:

    Thanks for information. Yes, e-scribing has potential, but it is not even close to being error-proof.

    Right now, the physician usually writes out the prescription, and we all know about doctors’ handwriting. The doctor has information the patient has given regarding meds currently taken and allergies. The pharmacist has this info also. The prescription is usually typed into the computer at the pharmacy, and the prescription filled. So you have the doctor, the pharmacist and the computer to catch allergies and interactions. There are potential errors in writing the correct prescription and directions, interpreting it by the pharmacist and filling it.

    The computer-prescribing should solve the handwriting problem. Maybe it can help more with the drug interactions and allergies since the prescriber will see those come up when inputting in the initial prescription. Maybe not. The prescriber, or computer can still make an error. Hospitals use computers help nurses dispense medications that physicians have prescribed. There have been rare, but serious errors.

    One of the main drawbacks right now is that it takes a lot of time, effort and expense to set this up in a doctor’s office. The field is still in evolution, so what you set up today may be obsolete in a year or two. Some have a concern about confidentiality also.


  12. Craig Sommerdorf Says:

    Most of the general population, to include most doctors, nurses, registered dietitians, and personal trainers do not have the knowledge of knowing the power of how your body can heal itself through proper nutrition and exercise, but most importantly knowing what not to put in your body that will improve their quality of life or even save their life.

    I am not saying that the people in the health or physical fitness fields are purposely misguiding their patients or clients, most are just un-informed. But thank goodness for all of the doctors and other health conscious individuals who think outside of the box to conduct the research and studies, but more importantly are not afraid to publish their findings, that does show us how our quality of life can be greatly improved by living a certain lifestyle that is not accepted or understood by most.

    It has been my experience that most people, especially those in the medical field, are skeptical of what I say, find it offensive and even take it as a personal attack on their own knowledge and lifestyle. What I put forth is just that and nothing more. In no way am I trying to discredit Dr. Hubbard or offend anyone else. I just have a passion of letting others know what works for me and yes I understand that what I say may come across as harsh at times, but I am not a writer by profession so my apologies if I am offending anyone. Everyone should do their own research and do what they are comfortable with.

    Yes it is great that we are all different, otherwise it would be a pretty boring world. If you would like to read more about the effects of pharmaceuticals on your body, which I agree with the author that they are useful in treating patients with acute injuries or trauma for a limited amount of time, feel free to read the following article. http://www.naturalnews.com/001967.html

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