The Food and Drug Administration once estimated that medication errors injure an estimated 1.3 million people in the U.S. every year. It found that life-threatening errors occurring outside healthcare facilities, such as mistakes made by pharmacies, doubled in frequency from 3,065 cases in 2000 to 6,855 in 2012. In addition, the researchers found that many of the errors were preventable.
If you fill a prescription for Celebrex to treat arthritis and the pharmacist mistakenly gives you the anti-depressant Celexa, causing you to become seriously ill, can you sue? In most cases, yes.
Your Pharmacist’s Obligation to You
Those of us who take prescription medication trust that our local pharmacist will dispense the medication needed to relieve our condition.
Your pharmacist owes you a professional duty of care. That obligation is not limited to reading your prescription, dispensing the drugs, and providing them to you. A pharmacist must use professional judgment and take reasonable measures to ensure that you get the proper medication in the correct dose, not the wrong prescription.
Most patients don’t detect pharmacy dispensing errors when they occur. When you pick up your prescription at the pharmacy counter, you probably don’t check the label and don’t check the pills. When you get home, if the pills look different from the last prescription you filled, you probably assume that the manufacturing process changed. People tend to trust that the pharmacist has done his or her job correctly.
The Most Common Pharmacy Errors
In 2016 the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) identified the most common pharmacy dispensing errors for that year. Dispensing the wrong prescription to a patient topped the list. Other dangerous errors included:
- Giving the correct medication but in the wrong dose
- Giving a patient someone else’s prescription
The report stated that insulin prescription errors were the most likely to harm patients, with one in three insulin errors causing injury.
Other documented mistakes made by pharmacists include:
- Failing to consult the physician regarding illegible or unclear prescriptions
- Confusing the name of one medication with the name of another
- Failing to provide the patient with proper instructions for usage
- Failing to screen a patient for drug interactions
- Labeling medication with incorrect instructions
Drugs with similar names also cause confusion, especially if they sound similar when spoken or the prescribing physician’s handwriting is more difficult to decipher. The ISMP flagged the following medication identity errors in one of its bulletins:
- Celexa and Celebrex: One is an anti-depressant while the other is an anti-inflammatory medication
- Lasix and Losec: The first treats fluid retention due to lung, kidney or liver disease or congestive heart failure while the second is regularly prescribed for acid reflux
- Lamisil and Lamictal: One is an antifungal intended to treat finger and toe infections while the other is an anti-seizure medication
Why Does It Happen?
Most dispensing mistakes are due to human error. Frequently cited causes include:
- Pressure to work quickly. With a long line of customers at the pharmacy counter, pharmacists often report that they feel pressured to work fast so that everyone can receive their medication in a timely manner.
- Patient misidentification. There have been cases where patients receive the wrong prescription, the medication intended for someone else with the same first and last name. Larger pharmacies with a high volume of customers are especially prone to this error.
- Computer Coding Errors. Some pharmacy dispensing errors are due to inaccurate computer coding and making wrong selections on electronic medical records.
What’s the Bottom Line?
Taking the wrong prescription can be a frightening experience. Depending on the medication and the dosage, side effects can include serious and life-threatening injuries. If you become ill as a result of a pharmacy error, seek medical care immediately. Then preserve as much evidence as you can, including the bottle, drug label, drug inserts, and the original prescription bag.
If you or a loved one has been injured because your pharmacist dispensed a medication that caused harm instead of healing, contact Fales & Fales, P.A. Prescription drug errors can lead to serious illness, disability, and even wrongful death. We have successfully handled pharmacy prescription error cases and will seek the damages you need to recover lost income, current and future medical costs, and your other losses.