Prescription drug errors cause thousands of deaths and injuries each year around the country. These incidents often occur when patients are prescribed drugs that interact with medications they are already taking, but they may also be caused by simple pharmacy mix-ups. The problem is that many medications have very similar names and packaging, and the way inventory is managed in pharmacies adds to the confusion. The products on North Carolina pharmacy shelves are usually arranged alphabetically, which means drugs that could easily be mixed up are placed next to each other.
Pharmacy errors become even more likely when drugs that look alike and have similar names and packaging are prescribed in the same doses. The antihistamine hydroxyzine and the blood pressure drug hydralazine are commonly mixed up in pharmacies because they are both small round pills available in 10, 25, 50 and 100 milligram strengths. This means pharmacists see the same options on dropdown menus and picklists. While mistakes like this may be understandable, they could still be medical malpractice because pharmacists have a duty of care to make absolutely sure they dispense the right medications in the correct doses.
Drugs with similar names are rarely used to treat the same condition, so adding a medication’s purpose to its packaging information could be all that is needed to prevent many common pharmacy errors. Using barcode scanners to identify drugs when they are received, stored and dispensed and placing stickers on the packages of drugs that are commonly prescribed in error could also eliminate mistakes. Pharmaceutical companies could do their part to help by designing clearer packaging and choosing drug names more carefully.
One of the biggest challenges medical malpractice plaintiffs face is proving that the defendant’s negligent actions were the proximate cause of their harm. An experienced personal injury attorney could argue that the facts are clear when the defendant is a pharmacist who dispensed the wrong drugs as this is behavior that fails to meet basic medical standards. Establishing a direct link could also be less challenging in cases where the plaintiff was denied drugs that could have helped them.
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