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Here’s how to reduce the risk of medication mistakes:

Dear Mayo Clinic: My friend’s father recently died of a dosing mistake. One of his prescriptions was not filled out correctly, causing a fatal reaction. I am taking multiple medications for different conditions. How can I reduce the risk of medication mistakes?

Answer: Dosing errors are mistakes in prescribing and dispensing medications. These errors injure hundreds of thousands of people each year in the United States. Common causes of dosing errors include drug names that sound similar, similar drugs, and medical abbreviations. Most medication mistakes can be prevented.

Knowledge is the best defense against medication mistakes.

One of the best ways to reduce the risk of dosing mistakes is to play an active role in healthcare. Learn about the medications you are taking, including possible side effects. Don’t hesitate to ask questions or share your concerns with your healthcare provider or pharmacist.

Dosing mistakes can occur anywhere, whether at home, in a healthcare provider’s office, in a hospital, in a pharmacy, or in a living facility for the elderly. Children usually require different doses of the drug than adults, which increases the risk of medication errors.

An example of a medication error is taking a prescription analgesic containing acetaminophen while taking a commercial product containing acetaminophen such as Tylenol. This mistake can lead to the risk of liver damage if taken in excess of the recommended dose of acetaminophen.

Another example of a possible medication error is taking a depression drug called fluoxetine (Prozac or Sarafem) with a migraine drug called sumatriptan (Imitrex). Both drugs affect the level of a chemical in the brain called serotonin. Taking them together can lead to a potentially life-threatening condition called serotonin syndrome. Symptoms of dangerous drug interactions include, among other things, confusion, agitation, tachycardia, and elevated body temperature.

It is important to store the drug in the original labeled container and carefully read the instructions on how to take the drug. Other medication errors include confusion between ear drops and ear drops, chewing non-chewable medications, cutting tablets, and taking the wrong dose.

Do not assume that chewing a pill is as good as swallowing it. Do not chew, cut or crush some medicines. By doing so, you can change the way your body absorbs them. It is important to ensure the correct dosage of the drug solution. Therefore, avoid using a spoon to pull out silverware rather than the syringes and dosing cups available in most pharmacies.

Actively review your medication regularly, especially when starting a new medication.

Ask your doctor or pharmacist the following questions:

• What is the brand or generic name of the drug?

• What is the drug supposed to do? How long does it take to see the results?
• How much is the dose? How long does it take?

• What should I do if I miss a dose?

• What if I accidentally take more than the recommended dose?

• Are there any foods, drinks or other medications or activities to avoid while taking this medication?

• What are the possible side effects? What if they occur?

• Does this new drug interfere with other drugs? If so, how?

Instead of handwritten prescriptions, healthcare providers can use a computer to enter and print prescriptions or send them digitally to help prevent dosing mistakes. When you receive your prescription, make sure it was ordered by your health care provider. It also helps to save the information sheet that came with the drug.

Another way to reduce the risk of medication errors is to adjust your medication during each visit with your healthcare provider. This includes comparing the list of medications your health care provider has with the list of medications you are taking. This helps avoid drug mistakes.

It is important to share this information.

• The name and strength of all medications you are taking, including prescriptions, and when to take them. Herbs; Vitamin; Dietary supplements; Over-the-counter medications; Vaccines; Diagnostic agents, contrast media, radiopharmaceuticals, nutrition tube supplements, blood products, etc., all given intravenously.

• Drugs that are allergic or have caused problems in the past.

• Whether there are new chronic or serious health problems.

• If you are or are about to become pregnant.

Also, keep an up-to-date list of all medications, including over-the-counter medications and supplements, in your wallet, purse, or other safe place. Preparation and information are the best ways to avoid health concerns.

Here’s how to reduce the risk of medication mistakes:

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