Death by Medication-Alcohol Combo Up 3,000 Percent

Such people, who may just need the old-fashioned longer stays in hospitals, include those who have trouble reading labels or non-native English speakers, he said.

"They have indeed saved a great deal of money [by shortening hospital stays]," Phillips said. "But they've lost some lives because of this."

Are Numbers the Real Life?

Dr. Robert Gwyther, a professor of family medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, doesn't doubt that deaths by medication and alcohol interactions have increased. In 1983, he would see patients who took 10 medications at most, he said, but now he sees patients on 20 different medications.

"And I'm just talking about prescription medications that we know about," Gwyther said.

Despite that, he was skeptical that the number of such deaths could really have increased 3,000 percent.

"That's a pretty huge increase and it makes me wonder about classification," he said. "Are we comparing apples and apples? It's interesting to talk about it as a medication error -- someone overdoses [while] on heroin, but is that a medication error?"

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