Medication Safety Articles

 

Most people realize human error can happen, including when getting a prescription filled at the pharmacy. Although pharmacists do their best, mistakes sometimes happen. Thanks to safer medicine labels and technologies like barcode scanning, mistakes of the past are rapidly declining. The few pharmacy errors that do slip by usually do not cause serious or permanent harm. Still, that’s little consolation to a consumer who is harmed or could have been harmed if a more serious error had happened.  

A woman with colon cancer recently received a full dose of fluorouracil at home over 4 days instead of 7 days. Fluorouracil is a drug used to treat cancer by causing fast-growing cancer cells to die. The medicine was given directly into a vein (intravenously) through a portable infusion pump that the woman wore while she was at home. For an unknown reason, the full amount ran in too quickly, leading to an overdose of the medicine. The effects of an overdose are serious and can be fatal. The effects from the medicine infusing too quickly include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, mouth ulcers, stomach bleeding, and a weakened immune system (making it harder to fight off diseases).

A pain relief system known as patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) allows patients to give themselves small but frequent doses of pain medicine without having to call a nurse. It is used most often in the hospital after surgery. The concept is simple: A pump containing pain medicine is attached to an intravenous (IV) line (which goes into a vein). When the patient feels pain, he or she pushes the button on the pump and they receive a dose of medicine. But the button on this pain relief system must be pushed only by the patient, not by others.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), recently released a warning about two opioid (strong narcotic) pain medicines that can cause life-threatening breathing problems in young children. These two medicines, codeine (also used in some cough and cold medicines) and tramadol, need to be prescribed by a doctor (in some states, codeine is available as an over-the counter [OTC] medicine).

Many manufacturers and retailers of pediatric acetaminophen solid dose (non-liquid) medicines including the makers of Children’s TYLENOL®, are transitioning to a single strength of 160 mg in the United States. Prior to 2017 acetaminophen chewable (or meltaway) products were available in both 80 mg (Children’s) and 160 mg (Jr.) strengths. But starting in early 2017, manufacturers began transitioning to a single strength (160 mg) pediatric solid dose acetaminophen product. The 160 mg strength will be named “Children’s” and the 80 mg products will be phased out. This change, at the recommendation of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is intended to help minimize the potential for medication errors due to confusion between multiple strengths.

When your health condition changes, or when new treatments become available, your doctor may recommend changes to your medicines. If this happens, it’s important to know whether the changes affect the use of other medicines you are already taking. It’s also important to make other healthcare providers aware of the changes. If you are seeing several healthcare providers, they may not be sharing updated information about your medicines. That is why you will be the best person to communicate these changes to your various healthcare providers.

Almost half of all Americans have taken at least one prescription medicine in the last month,1 and more than three-quarters have taken an over-the-counter (OTC) medicine.2 Almost two-thirds of Americans take at least one medicine daily to treat a chronic health problem.3 Most of these medicines are taken by people while they are in their home.

Narcan (naloxone) has been available for many years to reverse the effects of overdoses of opioids (narcotics) such as oxycodone (Oxycontin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), and morphine, as well as the illegal drug heroin. Narcan is given by doctors or nurses as an injection or through an intravenous line (into a vein). Last November, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Narcan nasal spray. This easy-to-use nasal spray allows emergency medical personnel, police officers, healthcare professionals, and lay people in the community to quickly treat someone with a suspected drug overdose.

Unlike medicines for adults, medicines for babies and young children often come in a liquid form. Thus, parents and caregivers must measure the correct amount of liquid medicine before giving each dose to their child. Many over-the-counter (OTC) liquid medicines come with a plastic dosing cup, oral syringe, or dropper to help measure a dose. A pharmacist may provide a dosing cup or oral syringe with liquid prescription medicines. However, a study published in October 2016shows that parents often struggle with measuring the exact dose of liquid medicine and make errors frequently.

Anyone can develop heatstroke during the hot days of summer and year-round in tropical climates. It is triggered by exertion in the heat or prolonged exposure to the hot weather, which causes the body to overheat. Heatstroke requires emergency treatment. Untreated, it can quickly damage your brain, heart, kidneys, and other vital organs and muscles. The damage worsens without treatment, increasing the risk of serious harm or death.

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