Top Ten Drugs Involved in Medication Errors: Potassium Chloride

#3 Potassium Chloride

Basic Characteristics

Potassium is a mineral found in many foods, including tomatoes, beans, peas, lentils, bananas and sweet potatoes. The body requires a certain level of potassium in order to keep the heart beating. Potassium chloride is a compound created by combining potassium and chlorine. This compound dissolves more quickly in the body than food-based potassium and can more easily be absorbed when potassium levels are low.

Importance of Adequate Potassium Levels

A New York cardiologist has described potassium as “part of the heart’s battery acid.” A person with low potassium levels, a condition known as hypokalemia, may experience symptoms such as irregular heartbeat and muscle weakness. This deficiency can be caused by certain drugs, such as high blood pressure medications, by certain diseases, or by illnesses involving prolonged vomiting and diarrhea. The deficiency can be treated by dietary supplements in pill form but should not be taken by people with kidney disease. When the kidneys cannot properly process potassium, it causes a condition called hyperkalemia. Too much potassium in the body can be as dangerous as too little. While potassium deficiency can cause uneven heartbeat, an excess of the mineral can stop the heart outright.

A Powerful Drug

In concentrated doses, potassium chloride is nearly always deadly. In fact, it is one of several drugs used in lethal injections for executions and euthanasia. When used in treatment, it is crucial that potassium chloride be administered in proper doses. An equivalent number of patient deaths are caused by not giving it, or by giving too little, as by giving too much.

Medication Errors Involving Potassium Chloride

As is true of many medication errors, mistakes involving potassium chloride often result from poor handwriting on prescriptions, unclear verbal orders, memory lapses, and the enormous number and variety of drugs currently in use. Look-alike labels and packaging are common sources of confusion. In one case, a patient with an acid imbalance was prescribed sodium bicarbonate. Instead, he was transfused with potassium chloride and required cardiac resuscitation. Both packages were from the same pharmaceutical company, contained red labels and were of the same strength. They were also stored side-by-side on the same rack. In another case, a mother of four died after being given 10 times the amount of the drug she was supposed to receive. To correct her low potassium levels, the patient was prescribed 10 ml. potassium chloride per hour to be administered by infusion pump. The hospital nurse instead pushed the button on the pump to deliver 100 ml. per hour. The nurse, who was supposed to be supervised in signing out and administering the drug, was found directly responsible for the patient’s death.

Potassium chloride helps save lives but, improperly used, it can be extremely dangerous. The pharmacists that dispense it and the medical staff that administers it should be carefully trained and supervised.

Contact The Orlow Firm Today

If you or a loved one has suffered harm due to negligence in the dispensing of potassium chloride, contact New York prescription error attorneys at The Orlow Firm for a caring and knowledgeable legal consultation.

Call (646) 647-3398 or contact us online.