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Medication errors can have many adverse effects

Almost everyone in the Pittsburgh area will need to be on a medication at least once in their lives. Most of us will have several that we take to manage medical conditions. Medication errors do occur, such as dosage mistakes and being given the wrong drug. It is important for pharmacies, hospitals, and all facilities administering drugs to make sure they are being careful and accurate.

The FDA has received about 30,000 complaints of medication errors since 1992. Because these reports are voluntary, the actual number of medication errors is believed to be much higher. Examples of medication errors include accidental overdose, turning up medication in an IV instead of down. Or a physician orders one kind of drug for a patient and the pharmacy fills the prescription with another drug. Or a patient is prescribed a certain amount of a drug but the prescription was misread and he was given the wrong dose. All of these errors can cause a patient to have a worsened condition or even death.

Thousands of patients have died each year because of preventable medication errors. The FDA has become involved in trying to reduce this number. In 2004, bar code labeling went into effect in hospitals. Patients have a bar code on their admitting wristband and the medications are linked to that barcode. If a nurse scans the medication and the bar code and it's the wrong medication, a warning screen appears.

The FDA is also working on drug names and reducing the number of drugs that sound alike. Proposed names that sound like current drugs are rejected. The FDA also added the "drug facts" section to over-the-counter medication and includes a new insert for prescription medication.

Consumers should know what drugs they take and why they take them. They should keep a list of all medications, including over the counter medications and their dosages. They should also know and understand all the directions regarding taking their prescription medication.

Source: FDA.gov, "Strategies to reduce medication errors: Working to improve medication safety", Accessed on Nov. 4, 2014

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