With the National Academy of Science Institute of Medicine concluding in 2006 that Americans suffer 1.7 million preventable adverse drug reactions each year, it’s essential to be an informed consumer when using prescription medicine. Since drug errors occur at every stage of the process, from prescription writing to dispensing to ingesting, according to Health News, vigilance is required at every step, not just at the pharmacy.
How Prescription Drug Errors Occur
Prescription drug name confusion is a major contributor to preventable adverse drug reactions, accounting for one-quarter of all drug errors reported through the voluntary Medication Error Reporting Program operated by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has the authority to approve prescription drug names and to order them changed, but in spite of this authority there are many drugs with similar-sounding names on the market: Zyrtec and Zantax, Kapidex and Casodex, for example. The similar-sounding names may become confused because of sloppy handwriting on the prescription, or they may be similar in appearance, dosage or use. Any of these factors increases the likelihood of prescription error. Standardized packaging can obfuscate errors that might otherwise be detected.
Besides drug name confusion, other common prescription drug errors include accidental overdosing and failing to monitor or detect allergic reactions. Warning labels are typically written at a level too sophisticated for the average consumer, according to the IOM study.
What Consumers Can Do to Avoid Prescription Drug Errors
The first step every consumer should take to reduce the likelihood of prescription drug error is to ask the doctor questions. Understanding not only the correct drug name, but also its purpose and dose, is essential.
Be sure the doctor is aware of any drug allergies and all other medications taken.
Ask the doctor to specify the drug purpose on the prescription itself. This will help ensure that the pharmacist correctly ascertains the identity of the prescribed drug.
The generic name should also be on the prescription as an additional safeguard against confusing trade names.
Always check the prescription bottle before taking any medicine in it to ensure that it conforms to what the doctor prescribed.
Many preventable adverse drug reactions result from patient error. Consumer awareness is the best tool for preventing such errors. Knowing what the drug is supposed to look like, its dosage, and when and under what conditions to take it will eliminate many potential drug errors, as will understanding potential signs of adverse reaction and what to do if they appear. Drug storage conditions and duration of use are additional areas consumers should familiarize themselves with to maximize their chances of avoiding preventable drug errors.
To ensure that only the intended patient ingests the medicine, it’s also important to safeguard prescription drugs by storing them in their original containers out of the reach of children.
If you feel you may have been injured by a prescription drug and it was not due to patient error, it is important to speak to an attorney knowledgeable in medical malpractice matters. A lawyer can investigate your situation, determine where the error occurred, who may be liable for your injuries and help you choose the best course of action based on the circumstances of your case.