Fatal drug errors spike at home

As powerful narcotic drugs have moved out of the hospital and into patients' medicine cabinets, fatal drug errors have risen dramatically, a new study finds. The researchers said that deaths from medication mistakes grew to 12,426 in 2004 from 1,132 in 1983. Even when adjusted for population growth, the increase amounts to more than 700 percent. For comparison's sake, there was only a 5 percent increase in fatal drug errors away from home.

The increase coincided with a change in attitudes about pain, the New York Times notes. Doctors now tend to see pain relief as essential for healing. Plus, with hospital stays shortening, patients are more likely to be dosing themselves at home. And many patients ignore the risk of mixing alcohol with their prescription meds, experts say; the increase in death rates was steepest from mixing meds with alcohol or street drugs.

- read the story in the NYT