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It’s cold and flu season again, and you know what that means: more trips to the doctor’s office, and more prescriptions to fill out at your local pharmacy.

Unfortunately, as pharmacies fill out more and more prescriptions, the risk of medication errors increases. Take, for instance, the story of Gwen Dalley:

It never occurred to Gwen Dalley that there was anything wrong with the prescription antibiotic pills she picked up at a Loganville pharmacy. But within a day of taking them, while driving her usual school bus route, she was so overcome with dizziness that she had to pull over and radio for a substitute driver.

As Dalley continued to take the pills, her symptoms got worse. She was nauseated, started having headaches and her vision blurred. She was briefly hospitalized, but doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong.

Eventually she noticed that some of the pills in the pharmacy bottle were larger than others. It turned out most of them were not the antibiotic her doctor had prescribed, but an antidepressant with significant side effects, according to a complaint Dalley filed in January with the Georgia Board of Pharmacy.

Unfortunately, stories like Dalley’s are far too common. According to one source, about 3 percent of prescriptions filled annually have a potentially harmful error. Errors on the pharmaceutical side of medicine can range from accidentally substituting the prescribed medication for one with a similar name or appearance to misprinting the required daily dosage. Physician errors can include a misdiagnosis that leads to the prescription of the wrong medication or the failure to alter a medication when needed.

The frequency of prescription errors means that you as a patient need to be proactive with your doctor and your pharmacist. When talking to your physician, make sure you understand what medication he is prescribing, what diagnosed ailment he or she is treating you for, and how you should administer the prescription once you receive it. When you pick up the medication, make sure the prescription on the bottle matches the medication name your doctor gives you. Also, make sure to let both your physician and pharmacist know about any other medications you are taking, as well as any allergies that you have, so that they can give you a medication that won’t do more harm than good.

Speak up, ask questions, be proactive, and stay informed in the prescription-filling process. These are simple precautions to take, but they could be life-saving.

One Comment

  1. Gravatar for Mike Bryant

    I was reading the other day that any prescription error involves 4 people, that seems incredible. You are so correct that people need to watch out.

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