Background: Increasingly, medications are consumed outside of clinical settings, with relatively little professional oversight. Despite this trend, previous studies of medication errors have focused on clinical settings.
Methods: We examined all US death certificates from January 1, 1983, to December 31, 2004 (N = 49,586,156), particularly those with fatal medication errors (FMEs) (n = 224,355). We examined trends in 4 types of FMEs that vary according to the relative importance of alcohol/street drugs and the relative likelihood of professional oversight in the consumption of medications.
Results: The overall FME death rate increased by 360.5% (1983-2004). This increase far exceeds the increase in death rates from adverse effects of medications (33.2%) or from alcohol and/or street drugs (40.9%). The increase in FMEs varies markedly by type. Type 1 (domestic FMEs combined with alcohol and/or street drugs) shows the largest increase (3196%). In contrast, type 4 (nondomestic FMEs not involving alcohol and/or street drugs) shows the smallest increase (5%). Types 2 and 3 show intermediate increases. Type 2 (domestic FMEs not involving alcohol and/or street drugs) increased by 564%. Type 3 (nondomestic FMEs combined with alcohol and/or street drugs) increased by 555%. Thus, domestic FMEs combined with alcohol and/or street drugs have become an increasingly important health problem compared with other FMEs.
Conclusions: These findings suggest that a shift in the location of medication consumption from clinical to domestic settings is linked to a steep increase in FMEs. It may now be possible to reduce FMEs by focusing not only on clinical settings but also on domestic settings.