The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines a prescription drug error as “any preventable event that may cause or lead to inappropriate medication use or patient harm while the medication is in the control of the health care professional, patient, or consumer.” There are many causes of prescription drug errors, including faulty product labeling and packaging, prescription drug recalls, improper medication dispensing methods and negligence or incompetence on the part of a medical professional. Such errors cause over a million injuries, illnesses and deaths throughout the United States each year, according to a report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM).
Prescription Drug Errors Most Prevalent at Hospitals
A particularly alarming statistic revealed that a patient is likely to experience a medication error for each day he or she is hospitalized. The report also showed that about a quarter of the illnesses and injuries caused by medication errors were clearly preventable. A common example is when a doctor prescribes a medication that could interact dangerously with another medication currently being taken by the patient. Such errors can usually be prevented by the nurse or doctor taking the time to verify any current medication being taken by the patient. This is especially important among elderly patients, who are normally taking several prescription medications at the same time. Other examples include medical staff inserting the wrong medication or the wrong dose into an intravenous drip, and pharmacists dispensing higher or lower doses of medication than was prescribed.
Mistakes in medication type and dosage can also arise from hand-written prescriptions, due to erroneous or missing information, or from poor handwriting. Many doctors also tend to use their own form of abbreviations for medications, further adding to the confusion. Even simple mistakes, such as a misplaced decimal point or an extra zero in the dosage amount could cause serious reactions in a patient. Drug safety specialists advise that systems such as electronic prescribing and bar code scanners for the removal and dispensing of drugs can help alleviate such errors. Many chain pharmacies have implemented electronic prescription and dispensing systems, and it is recommended that private practices and hospitals do so as well.
Although patient education is a powerful tool, it is not particularly helpful in situations of long-term hospitalization. For hospitals and long-term care facilities, the number of prescription drug error related injuries and deaths number in the hundreds of thousands every year. Patients in need of long-term care are usually unable to research the medications they are given, making them especially vulnerable to prescription drug errors. Long-term care facilities are also not required to inform patients or their family members of medication errors unless it results in injury or death. The IOM has recommended that medical facilities be required by law to disclose any and all medication errors to a patient.
New Jersey Prescription Drug Mix-Up
However, electronic systems cannot completely compensate for negligence and incompetence on the part of pharmacy employees. A highly publicized case involved the accidental commingling of various prescription drugs at several New Jersey CVS pharmacies in Morris, Union and Camden Counties. The first of these incidents occurred at a CVS in Chatham, NJ. An investigation revealed that on 15 separate occasions, the breast cancer treatment drug Tamoxifen was mixed with dosages of a children's chewable fluoride pill. Although the pills are similar in shape and color, pharmacy technicians should have caught the different imprint codes on each pill to prevent the possibility of commingling.
Further investigations led to the discovery of other incidents of commingling, such as the mixing of Metoprolol (blood pressure medication) with Risperidone (schizophrenia treatment medication). In February of 2013, CVS agreed to pay $650,000 towards efforts to educate the public on prescription drug safety measures. There has also been the addition of a pill identifier section on the CVS website in order to help customers verify and obtain information about specific pills and tablets.
How Can Prescription Drug Mistakes be Avoided?
There is also debate over whether or not the FDA should require pharmaceutical companies to use error-proof packaging methods. For instance, packaging pills in blister packs makes it easier for consumers to correctly identify them and make sure that they took the proper dosage. The FDA has also been asked to consider how medications with similar names can cause confusion among consumers. For instance, the drugs methadone and methylphenidate are similar in sound and spelling. However, methylphenidate is a drug prescribed to treat attention deficit disorders in children, whereas methadone is a synthetic opiate, commonly given to drug addicts as a legal substitute for heroin. Giving a child a dose of methadone instead of methylphenidate is very likely to lead to serious injury or death. Mistakes over name confusion also occur within the same class of drugs, such as clozapine and olanzapine, which are both used to treat schizophrenia. Even though both drugs are used to treat the same disorder, accidentally taking one over the other has led to fatal complications in some patients.
Prescription Drug Error is Medical Malpractice
A personal injury is defined as harm that is done to one's body and mind through the negligence or actions of another individual or entity. It is broad in scope, ranging from faulty mechanics to wrongful death. Medication errors typically fall under the category of personal injury known as “medical malpractice”, which is caused by the actions (intentional or unintentional) or negligence of a doctor or other medical professional. Some examples of medical malpractice are surgical mistakes, misdiagnosis of an illness or injury, and anesthesia errors.
Although most medication errors do not cause death, many of them result in serious, life-altering injuries. These injuries range from severe allergies, organ damage and serious accidents due to side-effects such as dizziness, blurred vision and fatigue.
Contact a Prescription Drug Error Lawyer in NJ Today
If you believe that you or a family member has been the victim of personal injury due to a prescription drug error, you must seek advice from an experienced Prescription Drug Error Lawyer in NJ. A personal injury attorney can correctly determine the source of your injury, and whether or not you have the right to seek compensation.
The attorneys of Villani & DeLuca have decades of experience recovering compensation for Ocean and Monmouth County clients. We recommend that you schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with one of our knowledgeable Prescription Drug Error Lawyers without delay. There is a statute of limitations to file a medical malpractice claim, so it is imperative that you seek legal representation immediately.