When your Chinese delivery order is wrong, you know it the moment you open the package and get a whiff of Szechuan shrimp instead of the General Tso’s Chicken you asked for.
And if you decide to just go ahead and eat the shrimp instead, the worst that could happen (assuming the shrimp isn’t spoiled) is the vague sense of disappointment that you didn’t get the food you wanted.
But when your pharmacist screws up your drug order, chances are you’ll have no idea he got it wrong – because most folks can’t tell one pill from another. And unlike swallowing the wrong meal, if you swallow the wrong drug you could suffer life-ruining or maybe life-ENDING side effects.
If you haven’t already been the victim of a drug mix up count yourself lucky. Because this happens EVERY SINGLE DAY – or so often that the FDA now says 10 percent of drug errors are the result of name confusion.
Sometimes, drugs have similar names and the pharmacist grabs the wrong one off the shelf. Other times, the problem is the doctor’s chicken-scratch handwriting on the prescription pad (I’ve been guilty of that myself).
Either way, imagine popping a pill hoping to get some allergy relief with?Allegra and ending up with the surprising results from swallowing Viagra instead.
Yes, it could happen – because those two made the list of commonly confused drug names from the Institute for Safe Medicine Practices (ISMP).
Other times, the problem is a pharmacist who should know better… but doesn’t. For example, hydromorphone is up to eight times more potent that morphine – but some asleep-on-the-job pharmacists seem to think that’s just the generic name for morphine.
It’s a mistake that has KILLED patients, according to a SUNY Downstate Medical Center analysis.
Two other drugs are being mixed up so often that the sleepy FDA recently perked up long enough to issue a warning over them: Pharmacists are confusing the antidepressant Brintellix with the blood thinner Brilinta given to heart attack patients.
In this case they don’t just sound alike, they look a lot alike too. They’re both little yellow pills, and they both have a “T” stamped on them. The FDA says these two have been confused at least 50 times that it’s aware of, but the real number is certainly higher since most incidents are never detected or reported.
I wish I could tell you these are the only examples. But they’re far from it. In fact the ISMP’s list alone contains 186 drugs! See the full list online. Google “ISMP List of Confused Drug Names” and the list should be the first thing to come up.
When you’re given a med, don’t just trust that the name on the bottle matches the pills inside.
Some pharmacies now give out images of the medication with each prescription so you can double-check. This should help prevent some medication mishaps. And if you’re Internet-savvy, or have someone in your family who is, you’ll also find a handy tool for identifying your drug at www.drugs.com/imprints.
And never, ever take anything if you’re not sure of what it is. If you have any doubt at all, CALL!