Medication Safety: Who's At Risk and What You Can Do

Today's medicines cure infectious diseases, prevent problems from chronic diseases, and alleviate pain for millions of Americans. But medicines can also cause harm. Adverse drug events cause over 700,000 emergency department visits each year. Patients and their families can do a number of things to help reduce the risk of harm from medicines.

One of the most important things patients can do to keep themselves and their families safe is to learn how to properly take, monitor, and store their medicines.

What Is Medication Safety and What Are Adverse Drug Events?

Medication safety includes a number of things that patients can do to make sure that they get the most benefit from medications with the least risk of harm. When someone has been harmed by a medication, they have had an adverse drug event.

Are Adverse Drug Events a Big Problem?

There are many ways to measure the size of the problem of medication safety. Recent work at CDC has focused on the short-term, severe problems of medicines taken by people outside of hospital settings. It is estimated that there are more than 700,000 visits to emergency departments for adverse drug events each year in the United States. Nearly 120,000 of these patients need to be hospitalized for further treatment. This is an important patient safety problem, but many of these adverse drug events are preventable.

Who Is At Risk for Adverse Drug Events?

Anyone who takes medicines has some risk of a harmful effect. How high that risk is depends on the individual patient's health, the particular medicines a patient is using, and how patients use their medicines. Nevertheless, national data suggest there are some key risks and risk groups:

What Can Patients Do?

All patients

Parents of young children

Adults and older adults

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