A report released by the Institute of Medicine shows that an estimated 1.5 million Americans are sickened, injured, or killed each year by errors in prescribing, dispensing, and taking medications. The report also states that the extra expense of treating drug-related injuries occurring in hospitals is estimated to be $3.5 billion a year.

“Even I was surprised and shocked by how common and serious a problem this is,” says Albert Wu, MD, MPH, a drug- safety specialist at Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore. “Everyone in the health care system has to wake up and take this more seriously.”

Common errors that occur in hospitals include physicians writing prescriptions that interact dangerously with other drugs a patient is taking, nurses putting the wrong medication or the wrong dose in an intravenous drip, and pharmacists dispensing 100-mg pills rather than the prescribed 50-mg dose.

According to the report, the  medication errors can be avoided if physicians adopt electronic prescribing, if hospitals use a standardized bar-code system for checking and dispensing drugs, and if patients make an effort to know about the risks of the drugs they are taking.

The report says that the pharmaceutical industry and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have not provided enough drug information accessible to patients and have not made drug packaging as error-proof as it can be.

The FDA says the recommendations “are supported by efforts already underway at FDA in the areas of medication error prevention, patient education, and label comprehension.”

[www.washingtonpost.com, July 21, 2006]