Today’s medicines cure infectious diseases, prevent problems from chronic diseases, and alleviate pain and suffering for millions of Americans every day. But medicines can also cause harm. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adverse drug events (ADEs) cause over 700,000 emergency department visits each year. 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. Patients can do a number of things to help reduce the risk of harm from medicines for themselves and their family members.

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:

Young Children: Children less than 5 years old are twice as likely as older children to be taken to emergency departments for adverse drug events (nearly 98,000 emergency visits each year). Most of these emergency visits are due to young children finding and eating or drinking medicines on their own, without adult supervision.

Older Adults: Older adults (65 years or older) are also twice as likely as others to come to emergency departments for adverse drug events (over 177,000 emergency visits each year). Older adults are nearly seven times more likely to be hospitalized after an emergency visit, but most of these hospitalizations are due to just a few drugs known to require careful monitoring to prevent problems. Common drugs that can require monitoring are blood thinners (e.g., warfarin), diabetes medications (e.g., insulin), seizure medications (e.g., phenytoin), and digoxin (a heart medicine).

All Adults: The death rate from unintentional prescription drug overdoses is highest among middle-aged adults (40–49 years old). In 2004, over 7,500 Americans died of unintentional overdoses of opioid (or narcotic) analgesics (pain medications such as methadone, oxycodone, and hydrocodone), more people than from cocaine or heroin.

To help combat preventable medication errors, Saint Mary’s Regional Health System invites River Valley residents to this month’s “Talk about Rx” Vintage Club luncheon on Wednesday, October 28. Featured guests are pharmacists Melinda Reams and Yancy Walker with C&D Drug Store.

“A key message to consumers is that if you are taking a medicine – especially if you are taking several medicines at the same time, including prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) – you should keep a current list, including the doses and how you take each medicine; and be sure to include vitamins, dietary supplements, or herbal remedies,” said Reams. ”Sharing your updated medicine list with your physician at every medical visit, as well as providing a copy to your pharmacist, can go a long way in promoting safe and appropriate medicine use.”

Reams also noted that it is important to make a copy of your medication list for a family member or other loved one, so that it can be provided to the emergency room or hospital in the event of an emergency.

Being smart about medications means getting the necessary facts to use them correctly. That means asking questions and sharing important information about your medicine use to better ensure that you reduce risks and get the most benefit from your treatment. Have lunch with Saint Mary’s Vintage Club on Wednesday and learn more about how you can play an active role in protecting yourself from medication errors.

Through the Vintage Club program, Saint Mary’s provides River Valley seniors with health and wellness information as well as social and travel opportunities. Vintage Club membership is exclusive to people 55 and older and their spouses. “Lunch with your Doctor” is a popular Vintage seminar event at which a physician or other health care professional speaks on topics relevant to senior wellness while guests enjoy lunch. A brief question and answer session follows. Admission is $5 per guest and includes the meal and registration for door prizes.

Guests at Wednesday’s program will also receive free medical reconciliation cards. These cards are meant to be personalized with important and accurate medical information, including medical history, medications, allergies, personal emergency contacts, physician information and other vital data. They are contained in a magnetic file, which can be placed on the refrigerator door where rescue workers can easily locate medical data in the event of an emergency. Medical reconciliation cards can also be obtained, at no charge, from the Saint Mary’s switchboard, just inside the main entrance of the hospital.

Wednesday’s “Talk About Rx” presentation is scheduled to begin at noon. Reservations are required at (479) 964-9355.

Melinda Reams and Yancy Walker, Pharmacists with C&D Drug Store.