Image courtesy the Washington Poison Center

Image courtesy the Washington Poison Center

COVID-19 stress linked to increasing medication accidents, misuse rates

There’s been a 13 percent increase in “medication error” calls to the Washington Poison Center over last year.

A new Washington Poison Center report is showing seniors are at a greater risk of accidental and intentional poisonings during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Aug. 12 report shows that the instances of errors while taking medication, accidental misuse of medication, purposeful misuse of medication, and even adverse reactions to drugs have increased between January and July 2020 over the same time period last year.

“Isolation, increased stress and anxiety, disrupted daily routines, and/or decreased access to basic needs, special services, and caregiver support have resulted in significant increases in medication errors and accidental misuse of household cleaning substances/disinfectants, as well as smaller increases in intentional self-harm and abuse,” the report reads.

Data collected by the WAPC is voluntary, meaning it’s possible the dataset is incomplete.

Between January and August 2019, the WAPC received 1,096 calls from seniors at least 60 years of age about medication errors, which increased more than 13 percent in 2020, when the center received 1,239 calls.

Medication errors is a wide umbrella term for under- or over-dosing, taking the wrong medication, or the wrong person taking the medication.

In 2019, WAPC received 355 calls from seniors about accidentally doubling the dose of their medication; this increased to 412 reported cases in 2020, a 16 percent increase.

The WAPC also received an additional 174 calls in 2019 about incorrect doses. In 2020, those call numbers increased by 14 percent for a total of 199.

Instances of individuals taking the wrong medication also increase from 218 calls in 2019 to 244 calls in 2020; additionally, reports of the wrong person taking a medication increased from 100 to 111 in the same time frame.

Other errors, such as using the wrong route to take a medication, have also increased in frequency.

Reports of accidental misuses of medication — which basically means an individual has unintentionally used a medication for incorrect or inappropriate reasons — also rose between 2019 and 2020, from 495 calls to 671, more than a 35 percent increase.

Purposeful self-harm reports have also risen from 186 reports in 2019 to 213 reports in 2020.

According to the WAPC, 92 percent of all seniors who called the poison center first had their cases managed at home by the center’s specialists, saving patients an estimated combined $2 million in emergency department costs.


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