Prescription Errors: The Wrong Drug


Nowadays, there seems to be a pill for just about everything. For those of us lucky enough not to be sick, pharmaceutical companies will happily sell us drugs to fend off a multitude of potential maladies. Unlike in the past, when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) came under constant criticism for taking too long to authorize new drugs, it now approves them at a record-setting pace.

More Drugs, More Risk

A growing variety of diseases and conditions can now be treated or controlled with drugs. What is more, the demand for prescription medicines increases as our population ages. Today’s elderly consume more than a third of all prescription drugs. In fact, the average senior citizen fills 38.5 prescriptions annually. Since 1992, the number of prescription medicines dispensed at retail pharmacies has more than doubled, from 2 billion to over 4 billion per year. For any one ailment there may exist as many as a dozen medications. With such high demand and such an enormous array of medicines at their fingertips, pharmacists are bound to make mistakes.

The Most Common Prescription Error

Medication errors kill as many as 7,000 Americans per year. The job of the pharmacists begins with a careful reading and interpretation of the prescription. At times, however, a doctor’s handwriting is unclear and difficult to decipher. In such cases, pharmacists should contact the prescribing physician for clarification, but they don’t always take the time to do so. For example, in one case, a pharmacist misread a prescription for antibiotics and dispensed an anti-diabetic instead, causing serious health problems for the patient. Supplying the wrong drug is the medication error that occurs most often in our nation’s pharmacies.

Drug retailers often employ technicians to assist pharmacists. Without close supervision from a trained and experienced pharmacist, technicians have been known to select the wrong bottle from the shelf and count out the wrong pills. Pharmacists must check and re-check the work of technicians in order to avert potentially disastrous results.

The Problem of the ‘Look Alike’ Drug Name

One of the most perplexing medication errors arises from the prevalence of ‘look alike’ drug names. Prilosec may be mistaken for Prozac, Navane for Norvasc, or Lasix for Losec. A prescription for Celebrex, an anti-arthritis drug, may be interpreted as one for Cerebryx, an anti-seizure medication, or Celexa, an anti-depressant. In an Elizabeth, NJ Shop-Rite pharmacy, a 73 year-old woman was given chlorpropamide, a drug designed to lower blood sugar, instead of chlorpromazine, an anti-psychotic medication. The patient was already taking an anti-diabetic drug and the mistaken prescription caused her blood sugar to plummet to dangerously low levels. A cascade of health problems followed: respiratory failure, intestinal bleeding and a drug resistant bacterial infection contracted during her hospital stay. Drug companies that spend tens of millions of dollars promoting and marketing their products often balk at changing the name of the medication, even under pressure from the FDA.

More Drugs, Less Time, More Errors

The sheer volume of prescriptions waiting to be filled at any given pharmacy means overworked pharmacists and a vastly increased margin for error. Unfortunately, there is no pill that will make prescription mistakes disappear.

Contact the Orlow Firm Today

If you or a loved one has been harmed by receiving the wrong drug from a pharmacist, contact the Orlow Firm for a thorough and knowledgeable consultation.

Call (646) 647-3398 today.