Overdoses related to “pill dumping” into a spare medication vial


Pharmacists from the Maryland Poison Center recently published several cases of what they refer to as “pill dumping.” An article in the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy1 describes the term “pill dumping” for when patients use a spare medication vial to hold multiple medications taken from different labeled prescription vials.

For example, “pill dumpers” may store all their morning or evening medications in a spare medication vial to make it easier to take all their medications at once. However, sometimes they mistake a look-alike prescription vial for the “pill dumping” vial and swallow any remaining contents in the prescription vial.

Looking at the data, the Maryland team identified 88 patients who were “pill dumpers.” Although all exposures happened in the home, these patients were already in or had been referred to a healthcare facility at the time of the call. Most wound up in the emergency department or critical care unit. One patient died when he accidentally swallowed pills remaining in a prescription vial containing oral colchicine.

The authors of the study also observed patients who use a spare vial to hold multiple different medications instead of taking all the individual prescription vials with them when traveling. This is another scenario that could also be a set-up for an error. Patients should be discouraged from reusing old medication vials to prepare their daily medications or to contain anything different than what the vial label indicates. Also, according to the authors, pill boxes or pill organizers might reduce the occurrence of “pill dumping.”

Created on April 10, 2019

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