A Blog For and About Today's Seniors

by Sandra K. Sprague

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Dennis Quaid Joins Nationwide Effort to Prevent Medication Errors

Actor Dennis Quaid Lends Support to Eliminate Medication Errors

Recently (December 2009) actor Dennis Quaid announced at a Las Vegas press conference that he was becoming publicly involved with The National Alert Network for Medication Errors (NAN). This newly-launched organization has established a goal of developing and implementing an alert network which immediately sends e-mail notifications to hospitals, medical clinics and health care professionals whenever a serious or potentially-serious error occurs in the process of dispensing medication.
Dennis Quaid's wife, Kimberly, gave birth to twins in 2007; the newborns were accidentally given overdoses of a blood thinner medication which nearly resulted in their deaths. The twins survived the ordeal (although it is too early to completely rule out any longer-term adverse after-affects) but the Quaids are determined that this kind of mishap not happen again.

Drug Name Confusion

On my in-home care giving firm's website, www.caregiversnw.com, we published an article in 2008 about the growing problem of drug name confusion. I couldn't agree more with Dennis Quaid and the National Alert Network for Medication Errors: Drug name confusion and resulting serious medication errors is a serious problem which continues to grow.
Not long ago, it was suspected that an eight year old died after receiving methadone instead of methylphenidate, a drug used to treat attention deficit disorders; a 50 year-old woman was hospitalized after taking Flomax, used to treat symptoms of an enlarged prostate, instead of Volmax, used to relieve bronchospasm.
The FDA estimates that about 10% of all medication errors reported each year are direct results of drug name confusion.

Alphabet Soup: The XYZ's of Naming Drugs

Pharmaceutical companies follow the premise that a catchy, snappy moniker for a new drug is an important part of its market development. The FDA will not allow names that imply medical claims, suggest a use for which the drug isn't approved, or promise more than it has clinically proven to deliver.
Typically, every drug has 3 names: chemical, generic (non-proprietary), and brand (proprietary). The generic name is selected by the United States Adopted Names Council (USAN). Generic names are created using an established stem, or group of letters representing a specific drug class. For instance: The arthritis medications celecxib, valecoxib and rofecoxib are generic names containing the -coxib stem; each belongs to a class of drugs known as the COX-2 inhibitors.
While names which include the common stem of their classification are easier to remember and suggest what a drug is used for, their similarities can contribute to medication errors. There are over 9,000 generic drug names and 33,000 trademarked brand names in use in the United States; it is no wonder that there is an increasing incidence of medication mix-up!

Fixing the Problems

The recently-formed NAN certainly has established a goal which will go a long way towards heading off many of the medication errors occuring today. Additionally, the FDA imposes strict naming guidelines for newly-introduced drugs. The FDA reviews about 400 pharmaceutical brand names per year before they go to market. About 1/3 of the reviewed names are rejected because they look or sound like existing brand names. The FDA may also require brand name changes even after a drug reaches the marketplace. After its introduction, the diabetes drug Amaryl was being confused with the Alzheimer's medication, Reminyl; the Alzheimer's medicine is now called Razadyne.
Physicians are encouraged to write prescriptions more clearly - printing in block letters rather than in cursive handwriting; avoiding the use of abbreviations; and indicating the reason for the drug prescription.
According to the FDA, pharmacists can help by keeping look-alike/sound-alike products separated from one another on pharmacy shelves; by avoiding stocking multiple product sizes together; and by verifying with the doctor information that is not clear before filling the prescription.

What You Can Do to Protect Yourself or Loved Ones

If you or a senior loved one is receiving in-home care, and the care plan calls for medication reminders, make sure each attending care giver is familiar with the medications being taken, as well as the dosage levels and frequencies. A good in-home care service will list this information in the care plan binder which should be kept in the client's home at all times.
Whether you are taking the medication yourself, getting medication reminders from an in-home personal care attendant or family member, using a pill box sorter is an invaluable tool to help guard against mistakes.
Other preventative steps include:

  • Know the name and strength of prescribed drugs before leaving the doctor's office

  • Insist that the doctor include the purpose of the medication on the prescription

  • Doubly-verify that a refill is what it should be

  • Tell your doctor about any medical history changes