Researchers analyzed the results of 39 studies evaluating adverse medication effects in American hospitals carried out between 1966-1996. This study was reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association and showed that between 76,000-136,000 annual deaths from drug reactions occur, usually due to adverse reactions and side effects. Intensive care patients are most vulnerable to adverse reactions because they are sickest and likely to be receiving numerous different medications. In some cases patients may be receiving as many as 20-40 medications a day.
If the lowest death estimate was used, adverse drug reactions have become the 6th leading cause of death in the United States, higher than diabetes and pneumonia but lower than heart disease, cancer, stroke, lung disease and accidents. If the average of 106,000 deaths from adverse medication reactions was used, it would be the 4th leading cause of death.
Studies have shown that certain types of drugs account for the majority of adverse reactions and these are: antibiotics, heart medications, blood thinners and chemotherapy agents for cancer. The author of the study, Bruce Pomeranz, M.D., from the University of Toronto said, "When people do die from medications, it is most likely due to failure of the kidneys or liver, disturbances on heart rhythm or destruction of the bone marrow."