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Pharmacy Errors and Mistakes: What You Need to Know

Updated April 11, 2024 | By Wilson Kehoe Winingham staff

Pharmaceutical drugs can work wonders when you’re sick or injured, both for your long-term and short-term health. However, the results can be severe when pharmacists and pharmacy staff make mistakes. An error can lead to further injury, hospitalization, or death.

Of the hundreds of prescriptions pharmacists may fill out every day, it’s no surprise that mistakes happen. Nevertheless, pharmacists must be responsible to their customers and patients. We often get the question, “A pharmacy gave me the wrong medication, What do I do next?” The answer: talk to a WKW lawyer about a pharmacy malpractice lawsuit. We can help you hold the pharmacy accountable and get you the compensation you deserve.

What is Pharmacy Malpractice?

Pharmacy malpractice happens when a pharmacist makes a careless mistake that causes a patient harm. Administering wrong prescriptions is careless and can cause major injury and even death. You are entitled to hold a pharmacist accountable when they act with negligence. Pursuing a wrong medication lawsuit is good for both you and those who could be victims of pharmacy malpractice in the future. 

Four Types of Pharmacy Malpractice

When you go to a pharmacy and get a prescription, be sure to read the directions and ask questions. Talk to the pharmacist before taking the medication if you have any issues or concerns. Additionally, pay attention to these four errors and mistakes that could occur.

Incorrect Drugs

The most common type of pharmacy error is dispensing the wrong medication. Pills are labeled with codes and look different. Distributing incorrect drugs can include: 

  • Giving a patient a prescription with a similar name.
  • Mixing up patient prescriptions.

If a pharmacist was distracted, multitasking, grabbed the wrong medication bottle, or mixed up prescriptions, it could fall under pharmacy malpractice.

Missing Instructions

How is the drug supposed to be taken? Can a patient take it while drinking alcohol? What about pregnant patients?

Placing incorrect directions on a medication label—or failing to provide instructions altogether—can result in complications. Pharmacists should always check new drug labels to warn patients of risks appropriately. Medications can be extremely temperamental and must be handled with care. Improper or missing instructions is negligence and pharmacists must be held accountable. 

Wrong Dosage

Sometimes a pharmacist may fill the correct drug but provide the wrong dosage due to a mathematical or packaging error. Giving a patient the incorrect dosage can cause them to suffer from extreme side effects or even death.

Lack of Patient and Drug Review

Ensuring that patients receive correct drugs, dosages, and instructions is only part of a pharmacist’s responsibility. Pharmacists must also check prescriptions for dangerous interactions if a patient is taking multiple drugs. Similarly, a pharmacist should be aware of potential allergies.

How do Medication Errors Happen?

Pharmacists are medical professionals who need to perform at a high standard for duty of care. Yet, repeatedly, people present their pharmacy errors to us, afraid to take the medication that is supposed to help them. Lives are on the line, so why does pharmacy malpractice even happen? 

Here are some of the reasons why pharmacists may make medication errors. To be clear, these are reasons for medication errors, not justifications for them. Regardless of the reasons, you can and should hold the pharmacy accountable.

Cutting Costs 

Corporations tend to cut costs to increase profit. Cutting costs means fewer pharmacists for more work or even trusting pharmacy technicians to do the same job as pharmacists, even though they’re unqualified. With fewer pharmacists on staff, a pharmacy’s attention to detail suffers. 

High-Stress Environments

Along the same lines as cost-cutting, stressful environments occur when high volumes of prescriptions come, and not enough pharmacists are working to balance the volume-to-person ratio. There is a lot of pressure to fill scripts correctly, and a buildup of pressure and lack of support leads to mistakes. 

Increased Workload

The more prescriptions a pharmacist needs to fill, the less time they have to give full attention to each prescription. National pharmacy chains have an especially high workload since many businesses work to meet or exceed a quota. 

Lack of Pharmacist-Doctor Communication

Doctors prescribe medications. Doctors will send instructions to the pharmacist, who then collects the medication, measures the correct dosage, and delivers it to the patient. Unclear instructions can make for a fatal delivery.

There also needs to be communication about your current medications. Some medications should not be taken together. A doctor may prescribe medication without looking at your medical record. A pharmacist may then fill the prescription without looking at your medical record. The mix of medications could have detrimental side effects because of doctors’ and pharmacists’ negligence. If this is the case, the liability could be medical or pharmacy malpractice. Talk to your medical malpractice attorney at WKW to help determine who is liable in miscommunication cases.

Similar Sounding Medications

Medications have names that sound identical but are used for quite distinct purposes. Pharmacists are required to know the differences but could make mistakes due to similar-sounding names, especially when given verbal rather than written directions.

Some examples of names that can confuse include:

  • Lamictal and Lamisil 
  • Levoxine and Lanoxin
  • Zantac and Zyrtec 

The FDA will change a drug’s name in extreme cases of repeated confusion. 

Other Common Pharmacy Errors

Pharmacy malpractice can take many forms. Other medication errors that pharmacists make include:

  • Expired drugs become weaker over time
  • Refill errors
  • Measurement errors for compounding dosage
  • Wrong drug strength (ex., giving 5 mg instead of 0.5 mg)
  • Post-surgery prescription mistakes
  • Contradictory prescriptions:  two different prescriptions ordered by two different doctors that contradict each other

Becoming a pharmacist takes years of training that covers these topics. They should be conscious of potential mistakes so they can avoid them. Pharmacists should be liable for negligence when they fail to perform their duty.

Not sure if you experienced medical or pharmacy malpractice? Click the link to learn more about three types of medical malpractice that may surprise you!

What to Do If a Pharmacy Gives the Wrong Medication

This page is about pharmaceutical mistakes and how you can hold a pharmacist liable for medication errors. But what happens when a person takes the medication? Let’s take a deeper look at what to do if the wrong medication is given to a patient.

Seek Medical Help

Call your doctor as soon as you realize you’ve taken the wrong medication. If you have an immediate reaction, call 911 and go to the hospital. Medication errors need immediate attention from professionals.

Do Not Take Any More Medication

There have been cases where pharmacists are made aware of their mistakes. But tell you to continue taking the medication, believing they were accurate in their distribution. Do not, under any circumstances, continue to take the medication if you have a bad reaction or know there is an error.  

Keep the Drugs You Did Not Consume

The drugs that you did not consume can be evidence in a case. The remaining medications can be tested to determine whether they are the correct -or incorrect- medication. 

Keep the Label and Bottle

The label can show inconsistencies between the pharmacist’s given dosage and the doctor’s medication orders. The label will also show that the wrong medication was prescribed and given to you. The label can reveal the pharmaceutical error making the prescription label a crucial piece of evidence in a pharmacy malpractice case. 

Contact Your Pharmacy Malpractice Attorney Immediately

Do not give anyone a statement before consulting your attorney. If you believe that you are a victim of pharmacy malpractice, contact the experienced pharmacy malpractice attorneys at WKW

Where do I Report a Pharmacy Mistake?

Contact your attorney before reporting the error to a pharmacy. Pharmacists will tell you to report the mistake to them, but wait until you have your attorney present. Pharmacies will try to cover their tracks and destroy any evidence that could contribute to revealing malpractice. If you don’t have an attorney, contact the pharmacy malpractice attorneys at WKW today. 

Call us at 317.920.6400 for your free consultation.

How to Prevent Medication Errors

Taking the wrong medication can severely mess with your system. Bad reactions can lead to health issues or even death. Although a pharmacist’s negligence is indeed their fault, there are steps you can take to avoid injury if pharmacy malpractice occurs. 

Visit the Pharmacy When it’s Less Busy

Despite the fact that pharmacists should give you their full attention regardless of the volume of prescriptions, you may find it more convenient to pick up your medication when pharmacies are less busy. 

Some of the busiest times include:

  • Weekends
  • Lunch hours
  • Right after work

There is typically an influx of people during those times since that is when people are most available to pick up prescriptions. Try to visit pharmacies during the mornings between lunch and closing time (2:00-3:45 pm), and in the evenings during dinner time if your pharmacy stays open that late. 

Read the Label

Make sure you read the label to see if it includes:

  • Your name
  • The drug title
  • The correct dosage
  • Warnings and instructions that match what your doctor told you

If anything is missing from your label, seek the pharmacist immediately. You need to be sure that the medication you are taking is effective.  Any missing or incorrect information has the potential to harm you.

Talk to Your Pharmacist

Discuss the prescription with your pharmacist. Take all the time you need to get your questions answered. Talk to the pharmacist about:

  • Allergies you have
  • Other medications you are currently taking
  • Any adverse reaction you’ve had to drugs in the past
  • If your prescribed medication can be taken with your medical history
  • Side effects of the drug
  • How the drug interacts with other medication
  • If there are limitations to what you can eat or drink
  • If you are pregnant
  • Risks of the medication 

The more clarity you get about your prescription, the more likely it is to avoid medication errors. Pharmacists are trained professionals and experts at what they do. When pharmacists take the time to talk to you, they can walk you through all of your concerns, and they are more likely to notice any mistakes.  

When pharmacists make mistakes, you have the right to hold them liable for pharmacy malpractice. However, it’s better to avoid injury and harm altogether by catching any errors before they happen. 

Consequences Of Giving Wrong Medication

You may be able to seek compensation when a pharmacist prescribes medication incorrectly.  Damages can include:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Medication bills
  • Medical bills 
  • Lost wages
  • Transportation costs
  • And more

Additionally, you may seek punitive damages in Indiana, where the pharmacy is punished for its negligence if it acted with intent and malice.  

An experienced attorney at WKW can help identify who is responsible for medication errors to hold the correct person or entity liable for damages. We will build a solid case for you so that you receive the full amount of compensation you deserve! 

Contact a Medical Malpractice Attorney Today

Medications are here to help you. If administered incorrectly, they can and will cause serious harm. Suffering from drug injuries can alter your life forever. If you or a loved one have been a victim of pharmacy malpractice, contact an Indianapolis Medical Malpractice Attorney from Wilson Kehoe Winingham. The lawyers at WKW can help you get the compensation you deserve. Call 317.920.6400 or fill out an online contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.

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