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Drug-Related Hospitalizations Double for Age 45+

White pills in a prescription bottle (


The number of hospital admissions for Americans age 45 and older from medication and drug-related conditions doubled between 1997 and 2008, according to a report released today by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. AHRQ defines medication and drug-related conditions to include effects of both prescription and over-the-counter medications, as well as illicit drugs.

The report indicates that 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 by 117 percent — from 30,100 to 65,400 — for for those age 45-64 between 1997 and 2008. 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 slightly by 11 percent.

AHRQ says 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 Medicate and Medicaid paid most of the $1.1 billion cost to hospitals in 2008 for treating patients with medication and drug-related conditions. Medicaid paid one-third (33%) of these hospital costs, while about a quarter (24%) was paid by Medicare. About another quarter (24%) was picked up by private insurance. The uninsured — defined as self-paid or no-charge — accounted for 14 percent of the total cost, while the remaining 5 percent of hospital costs for treating these conditions were borne by other sources such as TRICARE.

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