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Editor's Correspondence
April 13, 2009

A Closer Look at Fatal Medication Errors

Author Affiliations

Copyright 2009 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.2009

Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(7):718. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2009.32

Phillips et al1 revealed that the fatal medication error (FME) death rate increased by 360% from 1983 to 2004 in the United States. The domestic FME death rate, when the FME occurred in combination with alcohol and/or street drug use, showed a 3196% increase. Bizarrely, the increase was most prominent in middle-aged individuals, and no increase was found among children and elderly individuals, the 2 most vulnerable groups. The authors attributed the increase to the recent changes in medical care that have shifted the location in which many medications are consumed from clinical to domestic settings. I completely agree that the increase in FMEs is an important emerging public health problem in the United States, but to attribute this increase to changes in the medical care system seems to be detracting somewhat from the real problem.