How to prevent a pharmacy error from turning tragic

The days of the corner pharmacy, when the pharmacist was like an old friend who knew you and your family well, have practically gone the way of the horse and buggy.

Now, the business of dispensing medications is a billion-dollar one.

And you know that, where mega companies are concerned, time is money. It doesn’t matter if an employee is stocking the shelves or filling a life-saving prescription, they want things to move at assembly-line speed.

As a result, grave errors are being made at an alarmingly increased rate.

That’s why you need to be on your guard every single time you fill an Rx — even if it’s one on auto-renew. Luckily, that is fairly easy to do and will only take an extra moment at the pharmacy counter.

But it could turn out to be one of the most crucial moments of your entire life!

The price of ‘performance metrics’

Pharmacy mistakes happen every single day.

Those errors can include fatal miscalculations, such as what happened to 8-year-old Jake Steinbrecher, who was given a drug at 1,000 TIMES the dose his doctor had ordered. He was rushed to the hospital when his brain started to swell… but died several months later.

Michael Gray’s cancer fight was complicated when he was given a blood pressure med instead of what his doctor prescribed. After three weeks of taking the drug, he nearly died.

And Lee Hudson was 82 when, instead of the allergy med she thought she was getting, she was given a potent prescription drug that ended up shutting down her kidneys.

This isn’t just regular human error here. These mistakes don’t just “happen.” Pharmacy workers are being pushed to the brink — and patients who are supposed to be getting life-saving meds are suffering as a result.

Jackie Howell, a former pharmacist at Walgreens, describes the pace as exhausting. Where she worked, staffers were expected to complete one Rx a minute — and if they fell behind, a timer on the counter would turn red to indicate they weren’t working fast enough — something that might result in getting fewer hours or being moved to another store.

As you might guess, such “performance metrics,” as they’re called, are causing more and more errors to be made all the time. In fact, medication mistakes are increasing faster than ever before — a 450 percent rise in the last seven years!

And Howell isn’t the only one who believes that there’s something seriously wrong with how most prescriptions are being filled these days. One retired pharmacist who also worked at a chain drugstore said they were “handing out pills like hamburgers.”

It’s simply outrageous that your life could be put in jeopardy so a CVS, Walgreens, or Wal-Mart can make some extra money.

Factor in the problem of e-prescriptions — which were supposed to make things safer by eliminating your doctor’s illegible scrawl (it didn’t, since just as many mistakes are being made) — and you’ve got a tragedy waiting to happen every time you fill an Rx.

Of course, the sure-fire way to protect yourself is to take as few drugs as possible. But when you need to take a prescription med, there are some simple ways to make sure you and your family stay as safe as possible — and that starts right in your doctor’s office.

Be sure that you know exactly what drug is being prescribed, as well as the correct dosage, while you still have his ear!

And when you get to the pharmacy:

  • Open the bag and check on what you’ve been handed before you leave the counter. Look at the drug name, the dose, and if, in fact, the right person’s name is printed on the bottle.
  • Ask to talk with the pharmacist if you don’t recognize the generic name of the medication or if anything doesn’t seem right.
  • Double-check with your pharmacist on the possibility of drug interactions if you’re taking more than one med.

And before you take the first pill — even if the drug is one that’s been on auto-renew for longer than you can remember — check to make sure what’s inside the bottle matches the description on the package insert, which should tell you what color and shape the drug is, as well as any numbers or letters printed on it.

Take a lesson from Michael Gray, who noticed his pills — which were always white — were suddenly blue. Instead of checking it out, he simply assumed that they had changed color, and he almost died as a result.

And remember — while your pharmacist is stressed and under pressure to keep things moving along, he or she would positively rather be alerted to a mistake than have it go unnoticed with possibly deadly consequences.

“Are business tactics at some pharmacies risking your health?” PJ Randhawa, David Raziq, Erin Richey, 5 On Your Side, November 7, 2017,