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Medication Errors are Always Possible

Posted Jan 07 2013 6:00am
I’ve read a couple of worrisome reports lately on the subject of errors in the filling and taking of prescription medications. One review found that people were more likely to stop taking their medications when an aspect of the medicine’s appearance (color in this case) changed in between refills. I suspect the same findings would apply to owners who are responsible for giving their pets medications.
 

This is an understandable reaction. I experienced something similar myself when one of my daughter’s medications became available as a generic (leading to savings of hundreds of dollars a year, yippee!). I was out of town when the new shipment arrived. The pills were a different shape, and my mother-in-law was astute enough to pick up on the fact that the drug name on the new label was different from the old. She called me and we were able to figure out that the new wording was simply the generic rather than trade name for the medication.

This type of incident can also easily occur when obtaining meds from a veterinary practice or pharmacy. A generic might be substituted for brand name drug or a new supplier might be providing a generic medication that looks different from what was available previously. In a perfect world, owners should be alerted when changes like these occur, but that information isn’t always passed along in the chaos of real life.

The second article I read commented on several incidences of online and brick and mortar pharmacies filling prescriptions for pets in error. In some cases, a substitution was made without first consulting the prescribing veterinarian (e.g., switching from one antifungal medication to another because the first wasn’t available at that particular pharmacy). At other times, professionals trained in human pharmaceutics made recommendations for over-the-counter medications that were harmful to pets (e.g., minoxidil [Rogaine] for the treatment of hair loss in a dog).

The article was trying to make the point that errors can occur when owners fill their prescriptions away from their veterinary office. This is true, of course, but I’d argue that errors can occur anytime, anywhere, including in pharmacies associated with veterinary hospitals. People (and machines) make mistakes. Much can be done by conscientious pharmacists, veterinarians, and support personnel to drastically reduce the chances of a mistake being made, but the risk will never fall to zero.

I bring these articles up simply to remind everyone that owners are ultimately responsible for giving or not giving their pets medications in the home environment. Order and pick up your pet’s refills early, open them up, and compare the old and the new medications. If you notice any changes, keep giving the old medications and call your veterinarian and/or pharmacist for an explanation. If your pet is prescribed something new, keep a copy of the prescription and compare it to the label when you pick up the medication.

Don’t risk the complications that can be caused by stopping a needed medication or giving the wrong drug or dose. Talk to your veterinarian and get some clarification whenever you have questions about prescription or over the counter medications.
 
 

Dr. Jennifer Coates
 
 
Image: Canine Apothecary by Stephanie / via Flickr
 
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