Medication Safety Articles


The brand name Dramamine is the latest example of a well known, over-the-counter (OTC) medicine name being recycled for use in products that contain a different medicine or ingredients that differ from those in the original product. The original Dramamine (regular or chewable) contains 50 mg of dimenhydrinate (Figure 1). But there is now a Dramamine that contains a different medicine called meclizine 25 mg per tablet (Figure 2). And another product, Dramamine Non-Drowsy Naturals, does not contain a drug at all—it’s a supplement that only contains ginger root (Figure 3).


Packaging for all these products highlights the Dramamine name. When the same brand name (Dramamine) is used for products with varying ingredients, there is bound to be confusion regarding the product’s actual ingredients, strength, and concentration.

Here’s what you can do: Be sure to look at the package and read the Drug Facts section of the label. This will give you information about what the medicine contains—dimenhydrinate, meclizine, or ginger root. Read the other information on the package to see what the medicine should be used to treat and how often it can be taken. Ask your pharmacist for help to guide you in selecting the appropriate product for your needs.

It is common for people with diabetes to use a blood glucose meter to monitor their blood sugar (glucose) level on a daily basis. The meters are designed to analyze a small amount of blood from a fingerstick that is put on a test strip and inserted into the machine. Usually, in less than a minute, the blood sugar level is reported.

Recently, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) learned that pre-owned or secondhand test strips were being sold to consumers. These were often advertised in local newspapers or online as “cheap test strips.” While it is legal for people to sell their unused test strips, the FDA does not recommend this practice and is warning consumers not to purchase pre-owned test strips. They may give you incorrect results, or they may not be safe to use for the following reasons:

• They may not have been stored safely.
• They may be expired, or the expiration date may have been changed.
• They may not have been approved for sale in the United States (the instructions are not in English).
• They may have small amounts of blood on them from the other person if they were opened.

Here’s what you can do: Talk to your healthcare provider if you are not sure where to buy test strips for your meter or if you cannot afford to buy the test strips. Some available programs will provide you with test strips and even a meter at no cost. Buy only unopened vials of test strips from a reputable retailer that have not been pre-owned.

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.

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