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Medication errors rise, FDA works to combat them

According to findings published by AARP, medication errors injure approximately 1.3 million people on an annual basis. The majority of those injured reside in New York and the United States. Researchers conducted the study over a 12-year period, between the years of 2000 and 2012. In that time span, the number of errors more than doubled, from 3,065 cases to 6,855 yearly. During the entire study period, researchers saw more than 67,000 errors and 414 deaths. Many of the errors were preventable. 

The study only analyzed data from poison control centers across the U.S. and errors that occurred outside of healthcare centers. Because of that fact, researchers believe that the number of medication errors that occur each year is actually much higher. To prevent bias, the study looked at individuals of all age groups and not just at older populations.

That said, the study did find that medication errors most frequently associated with adverse medical outcomes are those given to adults over the age of 50. The more dangerous medications include those prescribed for high blood pressure and other heart conditions, insulin, acetaminophen, opioids and hormones. One in five medication errors were associated with cardiovascular drugs. Cardiovascular drugs and analgesics were responsible for two-thirds of the 414 deaths.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is working with several other groups to try to reduce the incident rates of medication errors and deaths. Some of the FDA's partners include regulators, patient safety organizations and external stakeholders.

Some measures the FDA and partners have taken include changing drug names so they are not similar to others on the market. The administration also mandates that drug labels be as clear as possible. For example, drugs made in multiple strengths should have labels that make it easy for consumers to differentiate between, say, the 5 mg and the 25 mg. When filling medications, pharmacists should print out clear and legible directions for preparation and use.

The FDA also requires that pharmacists use barcodes on more dangerous drugs. This helps verify that healthcare providers give the right drug, in the right dose and via the proper mode of administration, to the right patient at the right time.

When it comes to protecting patients from improper drug use, the FDA asks drug manufacturers to design their labels, packaging and drugs in such a way as to minimize or eliminate confusion. For instance, tablets and other medications taken via oral means should have distinctive and clear imprint codes that both providers and consumers can easily identify.


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