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Feature Article Prevent Medication Errors with Five Steps

By By Stacey Olstad, PharmD, Samaritan Medication Reconciliation Coordinator

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When you look at your medication, do you just read the dosage amount and go? You might be making a dangerous mistake. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Toxicology reports that in the past 13 years, calls to Poison Control Centers for medication errors doubled.

According to the study, the most common types of medication errors were taking the incorrect dose, taking the wrong medication and inadvertently taking the same medication twice.

Before you take any medication, especially a new prescription, always follow these steps:

Review the Ingredients

Over-the-counter medication like painkillers, cold medicine or steroid creams will list the active ingredient. Always check that you are getting the active ingredient you want and be aware of double dosing. For instance, some cold medications contain ibuprofen or other pain medication, so check the active ingredients before you take an additional pain medicine.

Prescription medication labels will list the drug name and include a physical description of the product. Double check that the medication name and pill description match the medication you were expecting.

Read the Warnings

Your doctor and pharmacist probably discussed the potential side effects of a prescription medication with you, but it’s worth reviewing the warnings before you take a new drug. For any medication, you should also check for possible interactions with your current prescription medications or health concerns. For example, for those with congestive heart failure or renal impairment, ibuprofen can cause kidney damage or worsening of heart conditions, and those on blood thinners must be cautious with aspirin and many other over-the-counter medicines.

Ensure the Right Dose

Are the instructions for a certain number of tablets or for a measured amount, such as milligrams? It never hurts to double check with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure you’re getting the correct dose.

Check Those Expiration Dates

Medication can be less effective or even dangerous if taken after the expiration date.  Storage in heat or moisture makes this worse. Do not dispose of medication down the sink.

Get Rid of Excess

If your medication has changed or been stopped and you still have some leftover that you need to dispose of, take it to the police departments in Albany, Philomath, Lincoln City or Newport. They take unused medications year-round.  You can also take it to a Drug Enforcement Agency take-back event which are typically held once a year.

For opioids and other controlled substances, the Food and Drug Administration recommends getting rid of any leftovers immediately to avoid accidental overdose or illegal abuse.

Consider a Pill Dispenser

If you have a lot of medications to keep track of or often find yourself wondering if you took a dose, a  pill dispenser can really help. There a variety of dispensers available now from simple weekly or monthly pill boxes to sophisticated management systems.

Medication & Kids

When kids are sick, getting them to take their medicine isn’t always easy. And unfortunately an article in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine reported that caregivers give children the wrong dose of medication more than 50 percent of the time, and don’t follow the correct dosing instructions 50 percent of the time. This can be dangerous for kids and also lead to treatment failure or drug resistance in the case of antibiotics.

To help your kids feel better faster, use their weight to find the dose if possible. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for help if needed. Use the dosing cup or syringe that came with the medication. Some liquid medicines give directions using teaspoons and some use milliliters, which can lead to incorrect dosing if you use the wrong delivery device.

The Samaritan Pharmacy team is a resource for you and your family, working within Samaritan hospitals as well as our retail locations to safeguard medications. Visit samhealth.org/Pharmacy for a list of our retail locations.

For patients recently discharged from the hospital, Samaritan offers a Medication and Education Discharge Service (SamMEDS) to help patients manage their medications.