Prescription Drug Alert

Records are showing that fatal medication errors are dramatically on the rise.

An in-depth analysis finds that deaths from medications taken at home -- like the death of actor Heath Ledger -- have increased rapidly over the last two decades. The study finds deaths from such errors jumped about 700 percent between 1983 and 2004.

The study's authors blame the soaring home use of prescription painkillers and other potent drugs, which were given mainly inside hospitals 25 years ago.

The finding comes after an analysis of nearly 50 million U.S. death certificates. Of those, more than 224,000 deaths involved fatal medication errors, including mixing prescription drugs with alcohol or street drugs.

Researchers found the increase in such deaths was highest among
people in their 40s and 50s. As one scientist put it, "We're sort of drug happy."

The study is published in Archives of Internal Medicine.

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