A new study in JAMA Psychiatry estimates that the adverse effects of psychiatric drugs are related to nearly 90,000 visits to the emergency room each year.
The study says those "adverse effects" include everything from allergic reactions to accidental overdoses.
Dr. Carl Schultz, a professor of emergency medicine at the UC Irvine School of Medicine, says it’s important to keep that 90,000 number in context. For one thing, the federal government estimates that nearly 27 million Americans use prescription drugs to treat mental illness. And the mentally ill are a higher-risk population, said Schultz, who was not involved in the JAMA Psychiatry study.
"They tend to have problems with their medication," said Schultz. "It’s possible that’s because it’s overprescribed, it’s also possible because the population itself is troubled and they have difficulty keeping things straight."
The study analyzes data from more than 60 hospitals from 2009 to 2011. It finds that almost half of the psychiatric drug-related ER visits were among adults ages 19 to 44. One in five of these visits resulted in hospitalization.
The study also finds that a majority of the ER visits were related to problems with 10 psychiatric drugs. Zolpidem - the generic version of Ambien and other insomnia drugs – accounted for about one out of every nine trips to the emergency room.
As a result, the study’s authors support efforts to consider alternatives to those psychiatric drugs that more commonly lead to ER visits. They write:
"Attempts to reduce the use of psychiatric medications where risks outweigh benefits have had mixed results, but the current burden of (adverse drug events) from therapeutic use of psychiatric medications, which conservatively includes almost 90,000 ED visits a year, suggests that such efforts should continue."
Schultz says the study highlights the need for more research into why these psychiatric drug-related emergency visits are occurring.