• analgesics;
  • emergency department;
  • adverse events



To estimate the rate of emergency department (ED) visits attributed to selected analgesic-containing medications.


We used a nationally representative public health surveillance system to provide estimates of adverse events identified in EDs, and a national telephone survey to provide estimates of selected analgesic-containing medication usage in the US population, 2004–2005. Analysis was restricted to products containing acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen. Types of adverse events and outcomes were compared. Estimated numbers and rates of ED visits were calculated by analgesic groupings and patient age groups.


The estimated overall rate of ED visits attributed to analgesic-containing medications was 1.6 visits /100 000 users per week. The very old and very young had the highest rates; there were minimal differences in rates by patient gender. Acetaminophen was the attributed drug with the most estimated ED visits and generally had the highest rates of ED visits. The highest estimated rate for a specific product group was among subjects 18–64 years of age taking narcotic-acetaminophen products (8.9 ED visits /100 000 users per week). Overall, 12% of patients presenting to EDs with analgesic-attributed events were hospitalized.


Rates of ED visits due to analgesics vary depending on the age of the patient and the product; most do not result in hospitalization. Although the rate of emergency visits is relatively low, because of the wide use of the analgesics, public health impact is considerable. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.