Almost everyone takes medication at one time or another. Recent studies reveal that in any given week four out of every five U.S. adults will use prescription medicines, over-the-counter drugs, or dietary supplements of some sort, and nearly one-third of adults will take five or more different medications. What is shocking is the number of people injured by medication mistakes.
MEDICATION ERROR STATISTICS
• Conservatively, at least 1.5 million people per year are harmed by medications. Many medication mistakes are never reported.
• 100,000 people die each year as a result of medication errors.
• At least 400,000 drug-related injuries occur each year in hospitals or approximately one medication error per patient per day. These drug-related injuries result in at least $3.5 billion in extra medical costs.
• Another 800,000 drug-related injuries occur in long-term care settings, such as nursing homes.
• It is estimated that 51.5 million medication errors occur during the filling of 3 billion prescriptions each year.
• Approximately 530,000 medication errors occur just among Medicare recipients in outpatient clinics.
• In a recent survey, over 40% of those questioned said either they or someone they knew had suffered injury because of a medication mistake.
Medication error is defined as any preventable event that may cause, or has caused patient harm while the medication is in control of a health care professional (e.g., doctor, physician’s assistant, pharmacist, or nurse) or patient. Such events may be related to professional practice, order communication, product labeling, packaging, compounding, dispensing, distribution, administration, education, and use.
EXAMPLES OF MEDICATION ERROR
• One patient died because a dose of 20 units of insulin was abbreviated as “20 U,” but the “U” was mistaken for a “zero.” As a result, a dose of 200 units of insulin was accidently injected.
• A patient developed a fatal hemorrhage when given another patient’s prescription for the blood thinner warfarin.
• Another patient died after the pharmacy mistakenly gave her a blood thinner 10 times stronger than prescribed.
• An elderly patient with rheumatoid arthritis died after receiving an overdose of methotrexate. A 10-milligram daily dose was dispensed instead of a 10-milligram weekly dose. This illustrates how some dosing mix-ups have occurred because daily dosing of methotrexate is typically used to treat people with cancer, while low weekly doses of the drug have been prescribed for other conditions, such as arthritis, asthma, and inflammatory bowel disease.
• A high school wrestling coach died from an interaction between tramadol and methadone, painkillers dispensed at different times by the same pharmacy. The pharmacist neither warned the patient about the potential drug interaction nor double-checked the second prescription with the doctor.
• Actor Dennis Quaid’s twins each received 10,000 units of heparin (an anticoagulant used to keep blood from clotting) instead of the 10 unit dose of heparin to flush (or keep open) the intravenous lines. This error was due to the similar packaging of the two doses of heparin and that they were stored near each other.
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