Four Most Dangerous Medications

Among people over age 65, just four types of medications are responsible for 2/3 of all emergency hospitalizations. That’s right: 4 drugs = 67% of hospitalizations due to accidental overdoses or because the medication had a more powerful effect than intended. Wow.

According to an article in The New York Times, the drug classes are:

  • Warfarin (also known as Coumadin) is a blood thinner. It accounts for a whopping 33% of emergency hospital visits.
  • Insulin injections, which accounts for 14% of hospitalizations.
  • Drugs that help prevent blood clotting. These drugs, which include aspirin and clopidogrel, account for about 13% of emergency visits.
  • Diabetes drugs known as oral hypoglycemic agents, which account for 11% of hospitalizations.

Despite how common these drugs are, they can be difficult to use correctly—it is a very fine line between a good “effective dose” and a dangerous dose. According to Dr. Dan Budnitz, an author of the study and director of the Medication Safety Program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

“We weren’t so surprised at the particular drugs that were involved,” Dr. Budnitz said. “But we were surprised how many of the emergency hospitalizations were due to such a relatively small number of these drugs.”

The trick of these medications is that the doses have to be managed within a narrow range that leaves little room for error. For example, insulin is necessary for some people with diabetes, but taking just a little too much could cause insulin shock…and could even be fatal. The blood thinner warfarin is needed by some people to prevent the kinds of blood clots that can cause stroke or heart attacks—too little could cause a stroke…too much could result in uncontrolled bleeding.

“These are medicines that are critical,” Dr. Budnitz said, “but because they cause so many of these harms, it’s important that they’re managed appropriately.”

The bottom-line message is that if you or someone you love is taking one of these Risky Four, make your doctor and pharmacist your best friends. Make sure you totally understand how the drugs work, and how to recognize a potentially serious reaction.

For more information about drug injuries, visit our website at If you have questions, HensonFuerst has answers.

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