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Quiz: Don’t Let Look-Alike/Sound-Alike Medication Cause You Harm

Imagine your mother telling you she’s starting a new pain medicine, only to learn that she ended her life three days later due to a medication error. That’s exactly what happened to Linda Sanders, a 62 year old woman who thought she was getting the pain reliever Lyrica, but she accidently got Lamictal, an antiseizure medication. The mistake was probably caused by the similarity in the two medications names. Unfortunately, suicide is a known risk associated with Lamictal therapy.

Medication mistakes involving pain-relievers have consequences that range from inconvenient to potentially deadly. Why are errors fairly common and potentially serious with this group of medications? There are an estimated 75 million Americans who suffer with chronic pain, which results in a lot of prescriptions being written and filled for pain relievers. Also, people can react differently to specific pain medications. In fact, taking the wrong medication can make an unrelated medical condition worse, or even be fatal!

A large new research study recently analyzed over 2,000 prescribingerrors involving pain medicationsthat were caught before being given to patients that occurred at a teaching hospital. The errors ranged from doctors ordering the wrong dose of the medication or giving incorrect directions to the patients, to prescribing a medication inappropriate for a patient (patient allergic to medication). Most troubling was the fact that pain medicines with names that “look alike” or “sound alike”were also a cause of prescribing errors.

Medications whose names look similarwhen written or sound like other medication names have long been identified as a source of medication errors. The Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) even publishes a list of “Confused Drug Names.” Doctors aren’t the only ones who make medication errors because of confusing drug names. Pharmacists can accidently dispense the wrong medication, nurses can administer a drug with a similar sounding- or looking-name and patients frequently take wrong medications due to this confusion!

Looking at the list of confused drug names provided by ISMP, we see several pain medications on the list. Here’s a partial listing:

• CeleBREX (a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory pain medication),CeleXA (an antidepressant) and Cerebyx (an antiseizure medication)
• Codeine (an opioid) and Lodine (a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory pain medication)
• Hydromorphone (an opioid) and morphine (a different opioid)
• Lyrica (a medication for nerve-damage pain) and Lopressor (a blood pressure medication)
• Methadone (an opioid) and methylphenidate (a stimulant medication)
• Tramadol (an opioid) and trazodone (an antidepressant medication)

What can you do to minimize your risk of a medication misadventure caused by medications whose names look or sound like other medications? Here are some tips that may help:

• Ask questions. Doctors, pharmacists and nurses can make mistakes and you shouldn’t be afraid to question them.It’s your health.
• Use your health care team! Make sure your doctor and pharmacist provide important information about ALL of your medications before you leave the office or pharmacy.
• The National Council on Patient Information and Education (NCPIE) has a terrific handout of “Helpful Steps to Avoid Medication Errors” that you can print out and take with you when you visit your doctor or pharmacist.
• Make sure your doctor and/or pharmacist cover all the following points for each of your medications (and take notes for later):
o What is the name of the medicine and what is it for? Is this the brand or generic name?
o How and when do I take it – and for how long?
o What side effects should I expect, and what should I do about them?
o Should I take this medicine on an empty stomach? With food? Is it safe to drink alcohol with this medicine?
o If it’s a once-a-day dose, is it best to take it in the morning or evening?
o What foods, drinks or activities should I avoid while taking this medicine?
o Will this medicine work safely with any other medicines I am taking?
o When should I expect the medicine to begin to work, and how will I know if it is working?
o Are there any tests required with this medicine (for example, to check liver or kidney function)?
o How should I store this medicine?
o Is there any written information available about the medicine? Is it available in large print or a language other than English?

To quote the National Council on Patient Information and Education – “Educate Before you Medicate!” And if you have ANY lingering questions about your medications, call your pharmacist. It’s part of a pharmacist’sjob to answer patient questions, and it’s your health on the line!

Walgreens Sued For Selling Patient Data

Walgreens is being sued by customers who are not happy that their prescription information – even though it has been de-identified – is being sold by Walgreens to data-mining companies.

The data privacy and security concerns surrounding the transfer of de-identified data are significant.  To “de-identify” what is otherwise protected health information under HIPAA, some outfits will simply strip data of 18 types of identifiers listed in federal regulations.  However, the relevant regulation (45 CFR 164.514(b)(2)(ii)) also provides that this only works if “the covered entity does not have actual knowledge that the information could be used alone or in combination with other information to identify an individual who is a subject of the information.” Thus, the problem with this approach is that, these days, nobody can disclaim knowledge of the fact that information de-identified by removing this cookbook list of 18 identifiers may be re-identified by cross-matching data with other publicly-available data sources. There are a number of reported instances of this sort of thing happening. The bottom line is that our collective technical prowess has outstripped the regulatory safe harbor.

Is this the basis of the lawsuit brought against Walgreens?  An objection to trafficking in health information that should remain private?  No.  The plaintiff group of customers is suing to share in the profits realized by Walgreens from trading in the de-identified data. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at HealthBlawg :: David Harlow's Health Care Law Blog*

Top 5 Most Expensive Classes Of Prescription Drugs

The top five therapeutic classes ranked by total expense are metabolic, central nervous system, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and psychotherapeutic, altogether totaling $155.7 billion, or two-thirds of prescription drug expenses by U.S. adults in 2008.

Two-thirds of American adults use a prescription drug, totaling the $232.6 billion in expenses. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality compiled a statistical brief showing that drug classes varied widely in how they made the top five list. While 46 percent of adults with a prescribed drug expense bought a central nervous system agent, they are relatively cheaper on average. Gastrointestinal agents had the highest average expense per prescription ($133), or more than three times the average expense of the cheapest class, which was cardiovascular agents ($39). But 46 percent of adults who take a prescription drug use a central nervous system agent, while 17.7 percent take a gastroenterological one.

Metabolic agents had the highest total expenses ($52.2 billion), or more than one-fifth of all prescription drug expenses. The rest of the list by total expenditures were central nervous system agents ($35.1 billion), cardiovascular agents ($28.6 billion), gastrointestinal agents ($20.2 billion), and psychotherapeutic agents ($19.6 billion).

The estimates presented are derived from the Household and Pharmacy Components of the 2008 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS). Expenditures include payments from all sources including out of pocket, private and public insurance sources for outpatient prescription drug purchases during 2008. Over-the-counter medicines are excluded, as are prescription medicines administered in an inpatient setting, clinic, or physician’s office.

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

Your Pharmacist’s Role In Safe, Effective Prescription Drug Treatment

This is a guest post from Dr. Mary Lynn McPherson.


Rescuing Patients On Darvon Or Darvocet With Zero Tolerance For Pain

On November 19, 2010 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) called for a halt in the use of the popular opioid pain relievers Darvocet and Darvon. These products contain the opioid propoxyphene, and it has been used to treat mild to moderate pain for over 50 years. However, concerns have long been raised about the effectiveness of this drug, and the risk of death (accidental and suicide). Darvon and Darvocet were banned in Britain in 2005, followed by the European Union in 2009. Over the past 30 years, the FDA has received numerous petitions to take these drugs off the U.S. market.

Research has shown that Darvon and Darvocet are no more effective for treating moderate pain than over the counter drugs like acetaminophen, aspirin or ibuprofen. Unfortunately, Darvon and Darvocet cause a lot more side effects such as dizziness, drowsiness, nausea and vomiting, hallucinations and constipation (all pretty typical of opioids used to treat pain). But, the side effects don’t stop there. The data is in, and it’s not a pretty picture. A recent study requested by the FDA showed that when used at the recommended doses, Darvon and Darvocet cause significant changes in the electrical activity of the heart, which can lead to a fatal irregularity in your heartbeat, even after only short-term use.

Among those advocating for the removal of these drugs from the market were pharmacists. The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists approved a policy in 2007 advocating for the withdrawal of Darvon and Darvocet from the U.S. market, and recently testified at the FDA Advisory Committee to this effect. As an often overlooked member of the medical team, pharmacists have a vital role to play in providing safe and effective treatments. We serve as the last line of defense against improper or unwise prescribing of drugs — especially those for pain. We are drug experts, and we can help patients and doctors switch from Darvon or Darvocet to safer and more effective treatments. Read more »

Top Gripes About Drugs And What They Cost

I used to defend pharmaceutical companies. ”What companies out there have contributed more good? Should care manufacturers make more when all they do is make transportation that breaks after a few years?”

It made sense to me that you should put a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow so that companies are motivated to invent more drugs and innovate. We throw a lot of money to athletes and movie stars who simply entertain us, shouldn’t we do better to those who heal us? I used to say that. I don’t anymore.

No, I don’t think the drug companies are “evil.” People who say that are thinking way to simplistic. These companies are doing exactly what their shareholders want them to do: make as much money as possible for as long as possible. That’s what all companies do, right? They are simply working within the system as it is and trying to accomplish the goal of making money. To say that they should “sacrifice” is foolish. They are simply playing by the rules that have been set out there. Those rules are the thing that has to change. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Musings of a Distractible Mind*

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