Local News

Pharmacy Errors A Prescription For Disaster

Posted July 9, 1999

— When most of us pick up a prescription, we assume our pharmacist is giving us the right medication. But the state is currently investigating hundreds of cases of prescription errors.

Betty Thompson took the wrong drug for a month before she learned her pharmacist had made a mistake.

"I felt betrayed," Thompson says. "I'm giving my trust to this person to give me a medication that's supposed to help me, and it didn't."

Betty's doctor prescribedPrilosecfor acid reflux. She took the pills for a month, but her symptoms never improved.

When she picked up a refill at her pharmacy in Carrboro, she noticed the new capsules were purple, but she had been taking green pills. The new (purple) capsules were indeed Prilosec. The green pills she had been taking were Prozac.

A state investigator believes her pharmacist gave her the anti-depressant by accident.

The North Carolina Board of Pharmacyinvestigates cases like Thompson's. The board saw a 20 percent increase in prescription errors last year. If the trend continues, they will investigate more than 400 complaints this year.

The director of the board says pharmacists are simply overworked. "They're working long hours, 12 hours, some of them 16 hours a day," David Work says. "That's 8 a.m. to midnight. That's a long day, especially if there's no break for lunch or meals."

The state pharmacy board is pushing for a rule that would give pharmacists a break every six hours.

Pharmacists say they are under a lot of pressure from the customer to fill prescriptions, file insurance, answer phones.

Pharmacists at one store in Chapel Hill fill 300 prescriptions a day. Each one is checked three or four times by different people to make sure it is right. But pharmacists admit sometimes mistakes are made. They say patients need to be more involved in their own health care.

"Ask us at the counter to take a look at your medication," Bowen suggests. "We're happy to do that."

Board of Pharmacy representatives agree. They say patients need to help protect themselves by slowing down and asking plenty of questions.

Betty Thompson no longer leaves her health in someone else's hands. She checks every prescription she gets.

"Even now, when I get a new prescription, I open it in the store, look at it and come home and look at a PDR guide to see if I've got the right thing," she says. "I'm so paranoid now about this."

If you are the victim of a prescription error, you can get information about filing a complaint with the Board of Pharmacy by calling (919) 942-4454.

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