Adverse drug reaction deaths

How many people die each year due to adverse drug reactions (ADR)?

In a recent e-Alert (“Icebergs Ahead” 3/12/03) I told you that one estimate placed the answer to that question at around 227,000. That’s pretty shocking. And members agreed, sending a number of e-mails requesting more information.

A member identified as WFFM asked: “227,000 pharmaceutical deaths – that’s a lotwould you care to tell where you get that number?” And Mitch wrote: “Where did you acquire these statistics? I believe the number is much higher than this.”

Mitch could be right, but there’s no way of knowing exactly what the number is because not all ADR deaths are identified as pharmaceutical-related. In addition, Charles Bennet, (a Northwestern University hematologist who has researched adverse drug effects for many years) estimates that physicians report only one of every ten ADRs.

Our source for the 227,000 deaths-per-year estimate came from the Wellness of Chicago Newsletter (no date or issue number – one of the pages on the Wellness of Chicago web site is simply titled “Newsletter.”) This report combines a number of different sources that examine deaths due to ADR. Analyzing numbers from a University of Toronto research project reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a 1998 study that appeared in the prestigious British journal Lancet, and a College of Pharmacy study from the Archives of Internal Medicine, Wellness of Chicago extrapolated the 227,000 figure, noting that it can be considered an approximation only.

Naturally, from different sources you’ll get different estimates. Whatever the actual number may be, without question it’s very high. The JAMA study, for instance, pointed out that if their analysis was figured conservatively, the estimate might go as low as 76,000 deaths per year. That’s the LOW estimate. At that rate, fatalities due to ADRs would be the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. – the equivalent of 190 jumbo jet crashes.

Wellness of Chicago estimates that deaths due to herbal and dietary supplements number six or seven each year. Can you imagine the public uproar that would result if that number was anywhere near 76,000? I think it’s safe to say that it wouldn’t be tolerated.

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute

“Just Slightly More Than Six Deaths Per Year From Supplements Between 1989 and 1998” Wellness of Chicago Newsletter,
“Preaching To An Absent Parish” Rabiya S. Tuma, BioMedNet News, 12/10/02