A New Jersey CVS Pharmacy mistakenly gave as many as fifty children Tamoxifen, a powerful cancer fighting medication, instead of the prescribed fluoride tablets. Although some children ingested the cancer pills, no injures have been reported. Unfortunately, these are not isolated cases with an isolated pharmacy; mistakes like this happen every day.
Hundreds of prescriptions are filled daily in a typical chain drugstore and everyone is in a hurry; patients are grabbing their bag and dashing out the door. Nearly half of Americans do not check their prescriptions to make sure they are correct. Some will just start swallow the pills without confirming the medication or reading the instructions and side affects.
Doctors prescribe a specific medication for a specific condition, and we count on the pharmacist to be accurate in filling that prescription. Pharmacists are supposed to review each technicians work, but due to understaffing some may forget to double-check. Illegible doctor handwriting or abbreviating drug names may lead to a pharmacist guessing and thereby filling the wrong drug. With so many generic medications available, the shape and color of pills may not be a reliable guide to confirm the right medication was received. Pharmacies frequently change manufacturers, so tablets may have a different appearance from one refill to the next. Additionally, many drugs look alike or sound alike. What happens when the pharmacist gives you the wrong dosage or the wrong medication? Damage may include short-term or long-term medical expenses, disabilities, pain and suffering, even death.
What can consumers do?
- Know what drug is being prescribed and why it is being prescribed. Asking the doctor to write the purpose of the drug on the prescription can act as a safety check for you and the pharmacist.
- Know the correct spelling of the drug you should be taking. Have your doctor spell it and write it down yourself, clearly and legibly.
- Know the instructions. How often will you take the medication and what is the dosage? What are the side effects?
- Provide a list of all medications, including OTC drugs to your doctor to avoid any drug interactions.
- Fill all your prescriptions at the same pharmacy so that all of your records are in one place.
- When picking up your prescription, compare the label to the information you received from the doctor.
- Know the medication. If you are picking up the drug for the first time, search on the Internet for the name of the drug and information imprinted on the pill. The photo of the medication online should match the medication you have in your possession. If you are picking up a refill, compare the pills in the new bottle to any remaining in the previous bottle. Look at the color, shape, and imprint on both sides on the pills (name of manufacturer and number). The new and old pills should be identical. If the drug looks different or the directions have changed, ask the pharmacist and/or your doctor.
Most importantly, don't assume anything. The extra time to ensure you received the correct medication may avoid complications and quite possibly save your life. If you want to be extra vigilant, here are two websites that can help you identify pills: http://healthtools.aarp.org/pill-identifier and http://www.rxlist.com/pill-identification-tool/article.htm. If you believe your pharmacy has made a mistake, you can file a complaint with the Board of Pharmacy in your state.
Mark Bello has thirty-five years experience as a trial lawyer and thirteen years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide legal finance cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life litigation funding is needed by a plaintiff involved in pending, personal injury, litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Member of Public Justice and Public Citizen, Business Associate of the Florida, Mississippi, Connecticut, Texas, and Tennessee Associations for Justice, and Consumers Attorneys of California, member of the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.
Sources: ABC News: "CVS Gives Kids Cancer Drugs by Mistake," March 4, 2012; U.S. Food and Drug Administration; http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm143553.htm, August 12, 2011
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.