You trust the medication your doctor prescribes will heal you and keep you healthy, but in hospitals and pharmacies across the country, medication mistakes happen millions of times every year.
The results are staggering: 1.5 million people are made sick, and more than 200,000 die as a result.
No one knows that better than Christina Wiggins. She thought she was getting the Vitamin B12 drug called cyanocobalamin. But when her son looked at it, he immediately recognized from his medical training, she'd gotten something far more dangerous.
"He looked at me and said, 'What is this?'" recalled Wiggins. "He said no, that's not B12. That's atropine. I did not know what atropine means or what it is."
Atropine vials look almost identical to B12, but are used to resuscitate patients in cardiac arrest or as a treatment for nerve gas poisoning.
The pharmacy at the hospital had given her the wrong prescription. Her son thinks it's negligent and unacceptable.
"He said, 'If I inject this, I could kill you with this or you could get a heart attack or stroke or something really could happen to you.'"
Wiggins caught the mistake, but that's not always the case. Lonnie Connor's 92-year-old mother received the wrong dose of medication while she was hospitalized for a bacterial infection.
"She stopped breathing and they were trying to resuscitate her," Connor said.
She lived a few months longer, never fully recovered, and died. The family's attorney says medical records showed she was mistakenly prescribed 100-milligrams of Oxycontin three times a day. That's 30 times the dosage she was supposed to get.
The family settled a suit with the doctors and pharmacists.
Studies estimate tens of millions of medication mistakes happen every year in medical facilities and in pharmacies.
The Institute for Safe Medication Practices works closely with the FDA to track and prevent medication errors. It keeps a list of nearly 700 look-alike or sound-alike drugs that may be confused with one another.
In pharmacies, where dispensing errors are most common, recent studies show the use of bar code scanning and electronic prescriptions have helped reduce errors, but mistakes still happen. Doctors may click on the wrong medication in a drop down menu, or the wrong dosage.
It's a problem that has the potential to get worse, since a third of Americans already take five or more medications. With the aging Baby Boomers, many are taking 10 or more, increasing the potential for error.
LINK: The Institute for Safe Medication Practices: http://www.ismp.org
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