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The Common Prescription Drug Errors Plaguing the United States

Written by Berkowitz

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Experienced Malpractice Attorney Serving Victims of Prescription Drug Errors in Connecticut

There is a haunting number of patients who are injured in the United States each year because of preventable medication errors. In fact, 1.3 million are injured each year from these prescription errors. Sadly, most of them are preventable, and these injuries lead to significant harm or even death.

Haunting Statistics About Prescription Drug Errors

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the number of fatal medication errors from 1993 to 1998 were related to medications that had improper dosages. This accounted for 41 percent of all errors. Giving the wrong drug and incorrectly administering that drug accounted for over 16 percent of fatalities in the country. Also, most of the fatal errors occurred in patients who were over 60 years old. Older people are at higher risk, because they take multiple medications on a daily basis.

Cause of Medication Errors

There are a variety of reasons why these fatal medication errors occur. Most occur at the pharmaceutical level, but there are also instances where they can happen during a hospital stay or when a physician is prescribing a medication to the patient.

Some common causes of medication errors include:

  • Overworked pharmacy staff. Pharmacies today are bombarded with work, which is why most pharmacists work 12 hour shifts. They are expected to fill a quota of up to 450 prescriptions per day, too. In some instances, the pharmacy is overloaded with patients, which causes them to hire pharmacy technicians. These individuals are rarely paid more than minimum wage. With the pressure to fill numerous prescriptions as quickly as possible, physicians and pharmacists can make critical errors. Further, the more medications being filled in generic form, the more that the color, shape, and size are confused with other prescription medications, which can lead to fatal errors.
  • Inadequate training. Most of the pharmacist working today have received the bare minimum mentoring from more trained pharmacists. The store clerks behind the counter are not trained much at all and only make minimum wage; therefore, it is not their career and they often do not care about the patient’s well-being.
  • Pharmacists are negligently supervising their technicians. The pharmacist is the one in charge. That is why there is always one on duty to supervise the pharmacy technicians. They must also advise the patients about medications, including inquire about drug allergies and other contraindications associated with the medications they are taking. However, it is usually the technician who completes these tasks – the technician is the one who measures, labels, and dispenses the medications to the customer. So, the interactions and dosage instructions are rarely relayed as they should be. Pharmacy technicians are also no longer required to receive certifications. Instead, they receive them online and have lower-quality training with less supervision from the overseeing pharmacist.
  • Poor communication between pharmacy and physicians. The physician and pharmacist must communicate with one another. If there is ever a question about the medication, interaction, or dosage, a pharmacist is supposed to contact the physician and verify the information with him or her. Pharmacists, however, are required to fill as many scripts as possible during a shift; therefore, they don’t have the time to call a physician and wait to talk to him or her on the phone. Because of this demand on both the physician’s and pharmacist’s time, patients’ information is rarely verified – guesses are made as to the proper dosage. Mistakes often happen during this stage of the communication breakdown.
  • Automated systems. While automated systems were created to reduce the number of errors in the pharmacy, automatic computer-generated refills, express prescriptions, and other software has led to more medication errors each year. It is not the system causing these errors; instead, it is the physicians and pharmacy staff relying on them too heavily without verifying things by hand.

Patients Should Know Their Medications

Regardless of what is prescribed and by whom, it is a patient’s responsibility to also know what medications are being taken, what they do, and how they could interact with current prescriptions and over-the-counter medications.

  • When a physician offers a new prescription to the patient, he or she should ask the physician about the use of the medication, any potential side-effects, the likelihood of an allergic reaction, and the possible side-effects of combining that medication with ones currently being taken.
  • The shape, size, and color of the medication should be examined, but the patient should also ask the physician what the medication is supposed to look like, so that he or she can verify that the right medication has been received when it is picked up at the pharmacy.
  • Lastly, a doctor should use a physician’s desk reference (PDR) to identify everything about the prescribed medication. He or she can also show it to the patient, so that the patient can see what the medication will look like.

Negligence and Medication Error Malpractice Lawsuits

Anyone who is the victim of a medication error should seek medical assistance right away. After the injury, they do have the right to bring civil action against the pharmacy, physician, and possibly the drug manufacturer – depending on the type of injury and reasons for the injury happening. Minor injuries, such as vomiting, dizziness, or other minor side-effects that affect the patient’s life can be actionable in a personal injury lawsuit.

To receive compensation, the plaintiff must prove that the legal elements were present in his or her injury. These legal elements include:

  • The pharmacy owed the patient a duty of care to not injure. This is assumed when a patient is a customer of the pharmacy and purchases prescriptions there.
  • The pharmacy breached its duty of care to the patient by creating a medication error.
  • The pharmacy’s negligence was the direct cause of the patient’s injury.
  • The pharmacy’s negligence led to the patient injury, which then led to hospitalization, overdose, etc.
  • The injury has compensable damages –  that is, the patient had to pay financially as part of the recovery process.

Anyone injured by a pharmaceutical error should hold on to all evidence. This includes the prescription bottle, packaging that came with the medication, the receipt for payment, and the name of the pharmacist and technician who was on duty. This information may be on the paperwork given to the patient.

The attorney for the patient may contact the pharmacy’s headquarters and serve them with a certified letter about the claim, mistake, and injury. There will be some evidence provided to substantiate the claim, and a malpractice attorney may be able to receive compensation directly from the headquarters without having to file a lawsuit or take the claim to trial.

The patient should receive compensation for his or her injuries and medical costs, as well as the physical and emotional suffering from the traumatic injury that was endured. He or she may have ongoing medical expenses, as well, for which an attorney can seek compensation to ensure that the victim is fully covered.

Also, if patients miss work because of a side-effect or medication error, they may be able to receive compensation for their lost wages. If there is permanent disability or if they are unable to return to work as they once were, they may be able to receive compensation for their future lost wages, as well. These types of compensation are best sought through a malpractice attorney to ensure that the claim is approved and the patients receive adequate compensation for their long-term injuries.

The Rights of a Victim After a Medication Error Injury Occurs

All patients have the right to safe and accurate medications. Therefore, if a patient suffers an injury because of inadequate prescribing or dispensing of medications, he or she may be able to file a lawsuit.

The patient can file a claim with the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) to report the error. This non-profit organization is devoted to preventing errors in the future. The patient can also write to the ISMP and describe the mistake in more detail. He or she can include information such as the reaction to the medication, and the physician or pharmacy error that was suspected. He or she can also tell the ISMP how the error occurred or how it is thought to have happened. A patient has the right to share any recommendations that he or she has.

If the error occurred by the manufacturer, the patient may have the right to file a claim against not only the pharmacy that dispensed the medication, but the manufacturer of the drug, as well.

Is It Time to Hire a Connecticut Medical Malpractice Attorney?

A patient should hire an attorney if the injury is more serious than a 24 hour side-effect that goes away. If there was a requirement to be admitted to the hospital, or if the patient suffers from a serious and life-threatening reaction, he or she should consult with a medical malpractice attorney who also knows about dangerous drugs and pharmaceutical errors. The attorney can then examine the facts of the case to determine if the patient has a case against the physician, hospital, or pharmacy that dispensed the medication.

Contact Berkowitz and Hanna LLC to Discuss Your Prescription Error Injury Case Now

Those injured because of a medication error can contact an attorney right away to explore their options. There are free consultations and attorneys available to assist throughout the week. Those who have suffered serious injury may be able to file a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the drug, the physician, or the pharmacy’s corporate headquarters for the prescription error.

To get started, patients should contact Berkowitz and Hanna LLC today to schedule a no-obligation case evaluation. Call 866-479-7909 or contact us online now.