Several studies indicate that the medical burden of fatal adverse drug reactions (FADRs) is significant, but the preventability of FADRs in the general population is largely unknown. The aim of this study was to determine the proportion of preventable FADRs and preventable fatal drug poisonings (FDPs) in a Swedish population.
Previously, a population-based sample of 1574 deceased subjects was scrutinised for FADRs and FDPs using relevant case records, including death certificates, medical charts and medico-legal files. Forty-nine cases (3%) of FADRs and nine cases (0.6%) of FDPs were identified in 57 subjects. In this study, the preventability of all these identified FADRs and FDPs was evaluated by clinical experts in a stepwise manner, applying a set of predefined and well established preventability criteria. Only cases for which consensus was achieved were included in the study.
Of 49 FADRs, 14% (seven fatalities) was considered definitely or possibly preventable and four of these were due to the presence of a contraindication for the drug. All nine FDPs were considered possibly preventable. As one subject had a combination of an FADR and an FDP, a total of 15 persons (26%) were considered having a definitely or possibly preventable FADR or FDP, corresponding to 0.95% of all deceased subjects in Sweden.
The results of this study indicate that approximately one fourth of FADRs and FDPs could be prevented. Therefore, an increased awareness of the possibility to reduce the risk of fatal events due to pharmaceutical drugs is warranted.