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Pharmacists or physicians -- who is watching the drugs?

Readers in the Mt. Laurel area know that a medication error can have deadly consequences. A wrong dosage could either cause an overdose or fail to treat an illness, and an incorrect prescription could cause a fatal allergic reaction. Incorrect record keeping or other error could also lead to the prescription of a drug that could interact in dangerous ways with another drug.

When a hospital, pharmacist, physician or other health care provider makes a medication error, and that error causes harm to someone, the institution or the individual can be held liable for damages.

Two recent news stories point out the importance of preventing drug and medication mistakes. One news story reported that over the period of several weeks, a CVS pharmacy in Chatham dispensed the cancer-fighting drug Tamoxifen to children, instead of the correct chewable fluoride tablets. The two types of pills are similar in size and shape, and as many as 50 families may have been given the wrong drug.

The second story reported on the increasing incidences of physicians being permitted to dispense medication - a job usually left to pharmacists. The state of Utah just passed a law allowing doctors to dispense cancer-fighting drugs directly to their patients. In the state of New Jersey, if physicians obtain a special permit, they are also allowed to dispense drugs directly.

The reasons physicians may want to dispense drugs directly range from patient convenience to keeping more costs and fees under doctor control. The report mentioned that drug companies are making it easier for physicians to dispense drugs by offering turn-key systems.

But the reason why drugs may be better handled by pharmacists lies in the potential to prevent medication errors. The pharmacist acts as an important check on dosage, drug interactions and other potentially harmful mistakes. A report by the Institute of Medicine stated that most medication errors happen during the prescribing process, and about half of those errors are caught by the pharmacists. Elimination of this important safety check could have serious consequences.

Regardless of who is dispensing drugs, medication or prescription errors -- committed by anyone -- can turn a life-saving solution into a life-threatening condition.

Source: Philly.com, "When doctors - not pharmacists - dispense meds," March 13, 2012

Source: NBC10, "NJ CVS Gives Breast Cancer Pills To Kids," March 3, 2012

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Ginsberg & O’Connor, P.C.
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Mount Laurel, NJ 08054
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Gary D. Ginsberg is a Certified Civil Trial Lawyer who has been recognized as an expert in litigating cases in the courts of New Jersey.

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