Errors with prescription drugs are alarmingly common. While most mistakes cause little or no harm, they sometimes have disastrous consequences. The wrong med or wrong amount can lead to serious complications, including stroke, organ damage or death.
How do medication errors even occur? The medical professionals are supposed to protect us from harm, not cause it. Here are some common medication errors and what you can do to reduce the risk.
Many drugs are measured in milligrams (mg) or micrograms (mcg). A doctor may inadvertently prescribe the wrong amount. Or a nurse or pharmacist could misread the doctor’s prescription, converting a 10-milligram dose into 100 milligrams. Ingesting 10 or 100 times the amount of certain medications could trigger a fatal overdose or irreversible damage. An underdose can also make the medicine ineffective or even life-threatening.
Make sure you confirm the dosage of any prescriptions with your doctor and pharmacist. Never take a double dose to “catch up” on a missed dose, unless instructed by your medical provider.
Several scenarios could result in you getting the wrong medication. The most common is when medical personnel confuse your medication with another one with a similar name. For example, the high-blood pressure medication Inderal could be mistaken for Adderall. Abbreviations are also a recipe for mistakes.
Also, the cliché about doctors’ messy handwriting is often true, creating confusion for a nurse or pharmacy. Another possibility is a pharmacist grabbing the wrong medication off the shelf if everything is organized alphabetically. Verify the name of the drug and what it’s for.
Many powerful drugs are effective by themselves but toxic in combination with other medications. Your doctor and pharmacist should be knowledgeable about potential cross-reactions with other drugs you are prescribed. They should also check for adverse interactions with over-the-counter medications and supplements. Lastly, they should have information about any drug allergies in your medical history.
Mention to your doctor and pharmacist all medications you are taking, even aspirin or cough syrup. Ask about possible drug interactions. Also double-check the label for contraindications, such as “Do not take this medication if…”
Other drug errors
According to the FDA, other common medication errors include insufficient label warnings, double-dosing with generic and brand name drugs, pharmacy mix-ups with other customers, and consuming alcohol with certain medications.
What if a medication error does happen?
Call the pharmacy immediately or dial 911 for Poison Control. Minor or temporary symptoms from a medication mistake are not legally actionable. Consider yourself lucky and wiser.
But if you or a family member suffer serious and lasting harm from a prescription drug error, you may have the basis for a medical malpractice lawsuit against the hospital, physician or pharmacy. Talk to a lawyer who has handled these complex and hard-fought cases.
Source: Food and Drug Administration (FDA)