Pharmacists often miss dangerous drug combos

The pharmacy is supposed to check for counter-indications

Adverse reactions to medications cause hundreds of thousands of emergency room visits, hospitalizations and deaths each year. It's not just nurses giving the wrong meds or doctors writing the wrong scrips. Part of the problem is pharmacists failing to check for known drug allergies or dangerous cross-reactions.

The Chicago Tribune conducted its own study to see if Illinois pharmacies would catch a routine "contraindication" - two medications that should not be taken together. In more than half of the test cases, the drugs were dispensed without raising any red flags.

Medical providers and corporations can be legally responsible for lasting injury or death from medication errors. A medical malpractice lawyer can determine if you have a legal case against the pharmacist, pharmacy and/or prescribing doctor.

This is the 21st century. It should be a few computer keystrokes.

The Chicago Tribune tested pharmacies around the state over the course of two years. At each pharmacy they presented prescriptions for a common antibiotic and a common anti-cholestral drug. Taken separately, the meds are safe. But taken together, they can cause muscle damage, kidney failure or death.

Sadly, 52 percent of all pharmacies missed this glaring contraindication. The Walgreen's chain performed best, but still failed to spot the medication error 30 percent of the time. CVS, Target and Costco all missed at least 60 percent of the time. Independent pharmacies were the worst at cross-checking, with an average failure rate of 72 percent.

This is unacceptable when the consequences can be so devastating. It is unacceptable when there is software and other checks and balances available, not to mention the licensed pharmacist(s) on staff. The pharmacist should check for:

  • Known drug allergies in the patient's history
  • Known cross-reactions between certain drugs
  • Known medical conditions that are incompatible with the medication

Nearly one-third of adults take five or more medications. Anytime you get a new prescription, ask your doctor AND your pharmacist to look up your chart for any contraindications. Make sure you understand the directions - dosage, how often and the symptoms of an adverse drug reaction.

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