inadequate drug warnings could lead to medication errors

Medication errors cause unnecessary injuries to patients in Pennsylvania and across the country year after year. Injuries from medication errors include administration of the wrong drugs or the wrong doses when a patient is in a hospital. But a type of medication error that is all too common is for prescriptions filled by a pharmacist to be incorrectly labeled or come with instructions that are incorrect or so unclear that the patient ends up unwittingly giving themselves an incorrect dose of the medication.

Just to test the prevalence of incorrect or inadequate instructions and warnings associated with pharmaceuticals, the magazine Consumer Reports recently had the same prescription filled by five different major drug store chains. They were Target, Walgreens, Walmart, Costco and CVS.

The results were disappointing. Consumer Reports found that important warnings about the drug they had prescriptions for (warfarin, the generic of the blood thinner Coumadin), were missing from the labels received from all five pharmacies. Leaflets that came with the warfarin gave warnings in small type and used medical jargon that was hard to understand, even for the magazine’s health reporters.

The results were all the more disappointing considering that the researchers chose a drug that should have come with very specific warnings about its side effects, which include bleeding problems. Warfarin is among the twenty most-prescribed medications in the country, and last year it was the second most common drug to precipitate an emergency room visit.

Only two of the five pharmacists in the test counseled the patient about the dangers of the drug and confirmed that it was the drug the doctor had prescribed.

Pennsylvania medical malpractice attorneys were not surprised to see that the pharmacies tested had such divergent practices when it came to warnings about dangerous drugs. Even though Consumer Reports’ test used a small sample in only one geographic area, it highlighted the variations that can be found in drug warnings. There are no U.S. Food and Drug Administration requirements for pharmaceutical drug warning labels (other than that they should include the patient’s name and the dosage instructions). State pharmaceutical boards are responsible for the content of warnings about pharmaceutical drugs. If they do not establish or enforce standards, then it is up to the individual drug store and/or pharmacist to establish their own standards.

Inadequate drug warnings are medication errors waiting to happen. If doctors and pharmacists fail in their duty to protect patients, they could find that injured patients will seek compensation through medical malpractice lawsuits.

Source: Consumer Reports “CR secret shoppers find dangers with prescription labels and inserts” 6/28/2011

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