Family Matters: Pharmacy mix-ups

Medical mistakes are now the third most common cause of death in the U.S., ahead of breast cancer, AIDS, even car crashes. And a big part of that number comes from mix ups at the pharmacy.It's a mistake that happens more frequently that you might think. Just last week, medication for my family was mistakenly filled at a metro pharmacy with an entirely different drug. We were mistakenly given a generic drug for high cholesterol. "That shouldn't happen, but it does," said Cindy Hamilton, compliance officer for the Oklahoma State Board of Pharmacy. "Every pharmacist is human. And mistakes do happen," she said.Hamilton's office gets around 200 complaints from pharmacy customers a year. About a quarter of those are for mis-fills. The mistake can be deadly."We probably get one complaint of a fatality per year," Hamilton said. There is no way to know just how often these mistakes happen, because the pharmacies themselves aren't required report errors. But if the state board gets enough complaints about a pharmacy, the pharmacist in charge could lose their license."Ultimately the pharmacist is responsible for everything that happens in a pharmacy," said Hamilton. "So the pharmacist is the one we'd be taking action on." In our case, the pharmacy immediately gave us the correct meds, launched their own investigation, and provided training to the entire staff at that location. There are steps you can take to make sure it doesn't happen to you. Hamilton says when the tech or cashier asks if you'd like to speak with the pharmacist, say "yes.""They should be speaking with the pharmacist," she said. "And they shouldn't feel guilty about taking up their time." Have the pharmacist go over what the meds are for and the dosage and compare it to what your doctor told you. And make sure you know the size, shape, and color of what you're prescribed. You can cross check your pills with reference photos online. Finally don't be afraid to ask questions. Even as pharmacies develop better checks and balances to prevent them, mistakes will happen."I think it gets better as technology increases," said Hamilton. "But there's still always that potential."

To file a complaint with the Oklahoma State Board of Pharmacy, fill out this form.

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