Here a Pill, There a Pill: Understanding Pharmacy Errors in Kentucky

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A few years ago, ABC News televised “Pharmacy Errors: Unreported Epidemic?”, an investigative program it had conducted on pharmacy errors in the United States. A huge television audience watched and listened in horror as the mother of an eight-year-old girl told of how she had filled a prescription that was meant to prevent seizures in her preterm daughter.

The mother had faithfully mixed the medication and put it into her daughter’s bottle for seven weeks, unaware that the pharmacist had filled the prescription with a strong medication for adult diabetics. 

At the time of the ABC broadcast, the eight-year-old girl—who had been born with no disabilities—could not walk, talk, or feed herself, having suffered brain injury directly related to ingesting the wrong medicine. 

Each week, 80 percent of adults in the United States use a prescription medication, over-the-counter drug, or dietary supplement. About 30 percent of U.S. adults take five or more medications. The public is much more aware these days that medication errors are a real possibility—and a danger.

Clarifying Terms

PharmCon Inc., a provider of healthcare education, points out that three terms related to medication errors tend to be misused:

  • medical errors—all adverse health effects that result from human error;
  • adverse drug event (ADE)—any injury that results from use of a drug; and
  • medication errors—“any preventable event that may cause or lead to inappropriate medication use of patient harm, while the medication is in the control of the health care professional, patient, or consumer” (National Coordinating Council for Medication Error Reporting and Prevention).

How Often Do Medication Errors Occur?

Estimating the number of medication errors that are made is difficult because not all errors are reported. The difference in error rates between Kentucky pharmacies may not be a reflection of how careful or sloppy the pharmacists are but how honest they are about reporting their mistakes. 

One survey of 1,000 community pharmacists yielded the following information:

  • More than 50 percent reported making an error in dispensing medication in the past 60 days.
  • The average pharmacist acknowledged making two and a half errors in the past 60 days; eight percent estimated that they had made more than six errors in the past 60 days.
  • About 25 percent of pharmacists believed that their error rate had increased over the past 12 months.
  • More than 50 percent reported dispensing the wrong dose.
  • More than 25 percent reported dispensing the wrong medication.
  • Approximately two percent of pharmacists reported not recognizing contraindications or drug interactions and warning the patient about them.

What Causes the Mistakes, and Who Catches Them?

Most studies pointed to the number of prescriptions being filled at the pharmacy as a key factor in the number of errors reported; for example,

  • Sixty percent of pharmacists who filled 100 or more prescriptions daily reported making a dispensing error, whereas only 47 percent of pharmacists who filled fewer than 100 reported a mistake;
  • About 50 percent of independent pharmacists discovered their own errors, while only 26 percent of chain-store pharmacists found errors themselves.
  • Approximately 38 percent of medication errors in prescriptions filled at independent pharmacies were discovered by the patient or a family member, whereas 68 percent of errors in prescriptions from chain-store pharmacies were found by the patient. 

Regardless of the reasons that pharmacy errors happen, when they occur, they can destroy lives. Victims are entitled to compensation for the harm that they suffer. If you have been the victim of a medication error in Kentucky, contact the Louisville medication error attorneys at Gray and White Law. Call us at 502-210-8942 or toll free at 888-450-4456 and set up a FREE, no-obligation consultation.