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Reducing Medication Errors: What Can Drug Makers Do?

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The FDA has started a “Safe Use” initiative to combat the growing problem of medication errors. An article by The Washington Post reports that greater care in the writing, filling and taking of prescriptions can prevent 50,000 unnecessary hospitalizations per year. Other statistics of interest, according to the article and the Institute of Medicine:

  • 1.5 million preventable injuries and deaths are caused by medication errors
  • Medication errors cost $4 billion annually
  • Between 2003 and 2006, more than 9,000 children were accidentally exposed to prescription drugs.

Much of the onus for preventing these injuries clearly rests on doctors, pharmacists, and patients. However, what responsibility do pharmaceutical companies have?


First, pharmaceutical companies are responsible for educating prescribers and users about the dangers of drugs they produce. To that end, warnings must be regularly updated to stay consistent with current research, and information must be freely and widely available (PDRs, and the internet is a good start).

Second, drug makers should focus less on the advantageous marketing names of their drugs, and more on creating unique identifiers that are not easily confused with other existing drugs. For example, confusion is often had with Inderal and Adderrall (affects heart and circulation vs. narcolepsy and ADD drug); Zyrtec and Zantac (allergy drug vs. ulcer drug); and Celebrex and Cerebyx (arthritis drug vs. antiseizure medication). Some hospitals use bar code scanners to help prevent misidentification.

Third, drug makers should be careful to clearly indicate and facilitate dosing information. A widespread problem is parents using a regular spoon in place of an actual teaspoon or tablespoon. To combat this problem, many liquid drugs come with measuring cups.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. The FDAs Safe Use Initiative appears to involve the pharmaceutical industry, so hopefully they will seriously tackle this growing problem.

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