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REALITY CHECK: WHEN PRESCRIPTIONS GO WRONG

Jul 10, 2014

Rx Errors Happen More Often Than Thought
By Andrea Ramey, WPMI, NBC-15


MOBILE, Ala. (WPMI) Most of us have either taken a prescription drug or are currently on one. Billions of prescriptions are written each year, and each year thousands die from prescription errors.

Whether it's the wrong dose or wrong medicine all together, mistakes do happen.

Local 15 News spoke with one man who says his blood pressure was at stroke level when he went to the emergency room. Due to a settlement agreement with the pharmacy, the man wished to remain anonymous. We will refer to him as "Bill."

Bill says he had been taking what he thought was Ambien to help him sleep. He says he realized later, the pharmacy had given him the wrong medication: his father's heart medicine.

"They was so surprised that I should've been in the morgue instead of telling them how I was feeling that day. My blood pressure was that high," said Bill, "I might look old but my dad is 80. It shouldn't have to go to the point that somebody has to get hospitalized and then you put Jr. or Sr. in the computer."

"Every year, unfortunately, we handle a number of cases that involve some type of prescription error," said Cunningham Bounds attorney Robert Mitchell.

Mitchell, who did not represent Bill, says he's currently handling a case where allegedly the wrong dosage of Lithium was given.

"They unwittingly took the medication over a multi-day stretch and suffered Lithium toxicity that ultimately proved fatal," said Mitchell.

In another case, Mitchell says his client was prescribed 1 mg of the blood thinner Coumadin, and instead, the pharmacy gave her 10 mg.

"Takes the medication over roughly seven, eight day stretch, has mass internal bleeding and thankfully, got to the emergency room within the nick of time," said Mitchell.

"There are actually some studies that have been done that show that the rates are as high as 3%. So three out of every 100 prescriptions, there's something wrong with it, and it's important for people to know that," said Institute for Safe Medication Practices President Michael Cohen, who is also a pharmacist.

The non-profit watch dog group he heads is devoted to medication error prevention and works closely with the FDA. Cohen says know what medicines you are supposed to take and learn the dosage. He says look at the labels and make sure you're receiving the proper medication before you ever leave the store.

"You want to talk to the pharmacist, open up the bag in front of them even and have them tell you about each medication, if it doesn't make sense, what you're hearing based on what the doctor's told you, there could be something wrong," said Cohen.

His advice could save your life. Cohen says each year 8,000 to 9,000 people in the country die due to prescription mistakes.

"The fact is most of the time, they get it right, but when they don't get it right, the effects can be life altering for people," said Mitchell.

According to the Alabama State Board of Pharmacy, it's not required in Alabama for pharmacies to report to the state when mistakes happen, which makes it difficult for consumers to check on their pharmacy.

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