AHRQ: U.S. hospitalizations for drug-related reasons rise by 117%

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The number of hospital admissions among Americans ages 45 and older for medication and drug-related conditions doubled between 1997 and 2008, according to a new report by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). Medication and drug-related conditions include effects of both prescription and over-the-counter medications, as well as illicit drugs.

Hospital admissions among those 45 years and older were driven by growth in discharges for three types of medication and drug-related conditions—drug-induced delirium; “poisoning” or overdose by codeine, meperidine and other opiate-based pain medicines; and withdrawal from narcotic or non-narcotic drugs.

Admissions for all medication and drug-related conditions grew 117 percent to 65,400 for 45- to 64-year-olds between 1997 and 2008, according to the report. The rate of admissions for people ages 65 to 84 closely followed, growing by 96 percent, and for people ages 85 and older, the rate grew by 87 percent.

By comparison, the number of hospital admissions for these conditions among adults ages 18 to 44 declined by 11 percent, the report stated.

Drug-induced delirium or dementia can be caused by sleeping pills as well as drugs for urinary incontinence, nausea and other problems common in the elderly, but doctors sometimes cannot identify the cause. Poisoning by pain medicines or other drugs containing codeine, meperidine or other opiates can be caused by accidental overdosing or the failure to recognize the drug’s active ingredient.

Drug withdrawal occurs when there is an abrupt withdrawal or significant reduction in the dosage of pain or other prescription medicines to which a person can become addicted, as well as of illicit drugs.

The AHRQ report also shows that Medicare and Medicaid were responsible for 57 percent of the $1.1 billion cost to hospitals in 2008 for treating patients with medication- and drug-related conditions; private insurance covered 24 percent and the uninsured accounted for 14 percent. The remaining 5 percent of hospital costs for treating these conditions were borne by other sources such as Tricare.

For more information, go to HCUP Facts and Figures: Statistics on Hospital-Based Care in the United States, 2008 here