KIYC: How to protect yourself from prescription mistakes
When you go to the pharmacy, you expect to get the right prescription. But a Kane In Your Corner investigation finds 100,000 people a year fall victim to prescription mistakes, which could have serious or potentially deadly consequences. A national pharmacists association says the problem is being fueled in part by heavy workloads faced by pharmacists.
Lynne Calloway thought she was just getting a refill of her arthritis medication but wound up with something very different.
“By the second day or so I was feeling not right,” Calloway says. She says she was suffering from body aches and nausea.
It could have been a lot worse: instead of her usual arthritis medicine, the pharmacy had given her a chemotherapy drug.
In 2016, News 12 reported on how Willie Scott of Newark wound up bandaged from the shoulders down, his body covered in blisters – after he received the wrong medication and his body had a severe allergic reaction. In Scott’s case, he received a prescription intended for someone else.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration receives more than 100,000 reports of medication errors each year, according to a 2019 report. Kane In Your Corner checked the FDA’s adverse event reporting database and found complaints for everything from patients getting the wrong dose to the wrong drug entirely.
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“It's a big problem and it's very significant,” says Al Carter, executive director of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Carter says increased workloads on pharmacists are fueling a recent rise in errors and says his group “actually had a couple of taskforce meetings recently that focused specifically on working conditions.”
The increased workload is evident in Vermont, where state regulators filed a 40-page complaint earlier this year against Walgreens, alleging the drug chain was so short-staffed that it sometimes operated stores without a pharmacist present. One store reported 20 medication errors in 2021 alone. Walgreens declined Kane In Your Corner’s request for a comment.
And earlier this year, CVS announced that it would would start closing pharmacies for half an hour a day so pharmacists could get a meal break.
“Workload is definitely a stressor that can add to prescription errors,” Carter says. “Being in an environment where you're working in extended periods of time, where you're filling numerous prescriptions, while providing immunizations, it can add up.”
Perhaps because of that heavy workload, few pharmacists are held accountable for mistakes.
Public records show that since 2019, New York disciplined 22 pharmacists for prescription errors with the most common form of discipline being a fine.
The Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection says it received at least 320 complaints about pharmacy errors since 2019, but spokesperson Kaitlyn Krasselt says just nine cases “resulted in a letter of reprimand.”
The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs says that since 2019, it has taken disciplinary action in only three cases involving prescription errors.
Experts advise consumers to be proactive in preventing pharmacy errors. They suggest checking the name to make sure it’s the right prescription. If the name is common, double check the address and date of birth. If the pills look different, don’t assume it’s a different generic; do an internet search of the pill and its markings. And if anything seems off, ask questions.
The Calloways say they’re fortunate. Despite getting the wrong medication, Lynne suffered no lasting ill effects.
If you want to report a pharmacy error or other adverse medical event, you can do so by using the FDA’s adverse event reporting system.
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