Image of different colored pills spilled onto a flat surface

Emergency department visits for medication harm to adults aged 65 years and older most frequently involve prescribed anticoagulants and diabetes drugs, according to a new federal study.

Investigators used a nationally representative sample of 60 U.S. EDs studied between 2017 and 2019. They estimated medication types and intents of use (such as therapeutic or unsupervised) when patients present to the emergency department for complaints involving medication harms.

A visit was deemed due to medication harm based on clinicians’ diagnoses and on supporting data from patients’ medical records. The researchers aimed to determine national estimates of emergency department visits for medication harm and subsequent hospitalizations.

Visits attributed to these adverse events were frequent and varied by medication type, intended use, and patient age, they found.

Patients aged 65 years or older had higher rates of emergency department visits due to medication harms than for those younger than 65 years, and most of these drugs had been prescribed. Overall, an estimated 69% of ED visits for medication harms involved therapeutic medication use, reported Daniel A. Pollock, M.D., and colleagues from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion.

They discovered that visits attributed to medication harms between 2017 to 2019 were frequent, and varied by medication type, intended use and patient age. Similar to the findings in the 65-plus group, anticoagulants and diabetes drugs were also the most common reasons for visits by patients aged 45 to 64 years.

Participating emergency departments were enrolled in the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System–Cooperative Adverse Drug Event Surveillance Project.

The study was published in JAMA Network.