How to protect yourself from prescription errors

When you go to the pharmacy, you expect to get the right prescription. But a survey by Kane In Your Corner reveals that 100,000 people a year fall victim to prescription errors, which could have serious, even fatal consequences. A national association of pharmacists says the problem is partly fueled by the heavy workloads faced by pharmacists.

Lynne Calloway thought she was just getting a refill of her arthritis medication, but ended up with something very different.

“The second day or so, I didn’t feel well,” Calloway says. She says she suffered from body aches and nausea.

It could have been a lot worse: instead of his usual arthritis medication, the pharmacy had given him a chemotherapy drug.

In 2016, News 12 reported how Newark’s Willie Scott found himself bandaged from the shoulders down, his body covered in blisters – after being given the wrong medication and his body having a severe allergic reaction. In Scott’s case, he received a prescription for someone else.

“It’s a big deal and it’s very important,” says Al Carter, executive director of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Carter says the increased workload for pharmacists is fueling a recent increase in errors and says her group “has actually had a few working group meetings recently that have focused specifically on working conditions.”

The increased workload is evident in Vermont, where state regulators filed a 40-page lawsuit earlier this year against Walgreens, alleging the pharmaceutical chain was so understaffed that it sometimes operated stores without the presence of a pharmacist. One store reported 20 medication errors in 2021 alone. Walgreens declined Kane In Your Corner’s request for comment.

And earlier this year, CVS announced it would start closing pharmacies for half an hour a day so pharmacists could have a meal break.

“Workload is definitely a stressor that can make prescribing errors worse,” Carter says. “Being in an environment where you work for long periods of time, where you fill many prescriptions, while providing vaccinations, it can add up.”

Perhaps because of this heavy workload, few pharmacists are held accountable for errors.

Public records show that since 2019, New York has disciplined 22 pharmacists for prescription errors, with the most common form of discipline being a fine.

Connecticut’s Consumer Protection Department says it has received at least 320 complaints about pharmacy errors since 2019, but spokeswoman Kaitlyn Krasselt says only nine cases “have resulted in a letter of reprimand.”

The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs says that since 2019, it has only taken disciplinary action in 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 correct prescription. If the name is common, check the address and date of birth. If the pills look different, don’t assume it’s a different generic; do an internet search for the pill and its listings. And if something is wrong, ask questions.

The Calloways say they’re lucky. Despite being given the wrong medication, Lynne suffered no lasting ill effects.

If you have a consumer question or story that needs to be investigated, click here to see how you can get Kane in your corner.
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About Alex S. Crone

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