Analgesics account for most nursing home medication errors, researchers find

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Most nursing home medication errors involve analgesics and sedatives, and these drugs are likely to account for errors regardless of how frequently they are administered, according to recently published research. 

A team from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Auburn University analyzed individual medication errors in North Carolina nursing homes, using data from the 2010-2011 Medication Error Quality Initiative. They extrapolated national estimates from this data using the 2004 Nursing Home Compare Survey, to determine which classes of drugs are most frequently involved in errors. 

Analgesics topped the list, accounting for 12.3% of errors. Analgesics refers to a range of painkillers, including acetaminophen (Tylenol); non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin; and opioids, such as morphine.

The other drugs commonly involved in errors are, in descending order: anxiolytics/sedative/hypnotics, antidiabetic agents, anticoagulants, anticonvulsants, antidepressants, laxatives, ophthalmic preparations, antipsychotics and diuretics.

The findings show these drugs are more likely to be involved in medication errors regardless of how much they are used in a given facility, the researchers wrote. Investigation into the causes of these “disproportionate” errors is needed, they recommended. 

The results appear in the current issue of JAMDA-Long Term Care.