Pharmacy Errors: How to Protect Yourself

According to estimates made by the CDC, 82% of American adults regularly use at least one prescription drug, and 29% use five or more. In the United States, adverse drug events cause an annual 700,000 emergency department visits and nearly 120,000 hospitalizations. People over 65 years of age are twice as likely as the general population to visit the emergency room and seven times as likely to be hospitalized due to an adverse drug event. The CDC estimates that 40% of all such events that occur outside of hospitals are preventable! The Institute of Medicine stated in 2006 that at least 1.5 million Americans are injured every year as a result of medication errors, and that the amount spent annually treating the harm dealt by these mistakes totals over $3 billion without including lost wages and productivity.
Pharmacists in the U.S. fill nearly 4 billion prescriptions a year, with a steady annual growth rate around 3%. While the average cost of prescription drugs falls annually, the industry reports increasing profits due to consistently increased sales. The number of pharmacists is not experiencing similar growth, and they are expected to fill prescriptions at an increasing rate. In attempt to cut costs, most large-scale, high-volume pharmacies employ technicians to perform the majority of pharmacy duties, rather than keeping multiple trained, experienced pharmacists working in the pharmacy at all times. The frightening reality is that becoming a pharmacist’s technician only requires a few hours of on-the-job training, and the person filling your prescriptions may very well not have finished high school – or more alarming, may still be in high school!
The fault is not squarely on pharmacy technicians. Doctors are not known for their penmanship, and differentiating between drugs can be quite difficult. Consider the four following similarly-named drugs with wildly different applications:
  • Lamictal (lamotrigine) for epilepsy
  • Lamisil (terbinafine) for nail infections
  • Ludiomil (maprotiline) for depression
  • Lomotil (diphenoxylate) for diarrhea

Pharmacists are held responsible for the drugs that their pharmacies prescribe, as they should be. Unfortunately, in high-volume pharmacies they often do not have a direct hand in reviewing all prescriptions as they come through, and that is a serious fault in the current pharmacy system.

Pharmacies are required to keep a pharmacist available at all times, and if you ever have a question about your prescription, you should ask to speak with the pharmacist. If they won’t take the time to properly educate you, you should speak with your prescribing physician and find a new pharmacy! The potential danger of a pharmacy error is too great to take a chance with your life or that of a loved one.