Kelley Uustal Trial Attorney
October 7, 2010

Prevent a Medication Error: Important Drug Safety Tips

Here you will find some helpful information about safety as it relates to prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications.

Prescription Drugs

Prescription drug mistakes are a rising problem in America. Not only are there increasingly high numbers of drugs exploding onto the market, but many of the drug names are extremely similar. With so many new drugs that have virtually indistinguishable names, pharmacists are making more and more mistakes when it comes to filling patients’ prescriptions. The Food and Drug Administration estimates that the process of prescribing the right patient, the right drug, in the right dose may result in more than 7,000 deaths per year in hospitals alone.

Patients can minimize the risk of prescription mistakes by staying alert. When being prescribed a medication by your doctor, make sure you understand what medication the doctor is prescribing. It is not enough to know that she is prescribing you “pain medicine.” Have your doctor tell you the name and prescribed dosage of the medicine because it is unlikely that you will be able to read what is scribbled on the doctor’s prescription pad. Knowing the name of the medicine is your first line of defense against a pharmacist who mistakenly read Celebrex, an arthritis drug, for Celexa, an antidepressant.

Upon picking up your prescription, read the label to ensure the medication matches the name of the drug you were prescribed. Next, ensure that your pharmacist has filled your medication in the correct dosage. Lastly, it never hurts to count the pills contained in the bottle to make sure they correspond with what you paid for. With the rising cost of “miracle drugs,” pills can cost more than $3.00 per pill. Accidental shortages of pills by your local pharmacy could be a costly mistake.

Over-the-Counter Medicines

Before taking any over-the-counter (OTC) medicines yourself or giving them to a loved one, you must first read the product label. This is extremely important. All package labels provide easy-to-read usage and safety information as required by the FDA. If you have trouble understanding the instructions or information on a label, then you should ask your doctor, pharmacist, or other healthcare professional before taking the medicine.

The information you’ll find on the packaging is as follows:

  • Active ingredient; the amount of active ingredient per unit
  • The therapeutic substance in the product
  • Uses; symptoms or diseases the product will treat or prevent
  • Warnings; when not to use the product, conditions that may require advice from a doctor before taking the product, possible interactions or side effects, when to stop taking the product and when to contact a doctor, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, seek guidance from a health care professional, keep product out of children’s reach
  • Inactive ingredients; substances such as colors or flavors
  • Purpose; examples include antihistamine, antacid, or cough suppressant
  • Directions; dose amount for different ages, how to take, how much, how often and how long, and when to contact a doctor if symptoms do not improve
  • Other information; how to store the product properly, and required information about certain ingredients (such as the amount of calcium, potassium, or sodium the product contains)
  • Expiration date; medicine should be discarded after this date
  • Lot or batch code; information for the manufacturer to identify the product
  • Name and address of manufacturer, packer, or distributor
  • Net quantity of contents; how much medicine is in each package
  • What to do if an overdose occurs

The manufacturers of OTC medicines do make changes to their products or labeling, so be sure to check for such changes each time you buy the product. They may add or change ingredients, dosage amounts or product warnings. In most cases, they will alert you to such changes by placing a special “flag” or “banner” on the front of the package.

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