Drug Mix Ups – Ending Up With The Wrong Medications

Drug Mix Ups

Last month (July 2015), the FDA warned consumers and health care professionals, as they have received numerous reports concerning drug mix ups between drugs that have very similar names but are clearly very different drugs. It’s a reminder to the public know what drugs you are taking, what they are called and what they are suppose to look like.

The recent big mix-up is surrounding confusion between the antidepressant, Brintellix, with the anti-blood clotting drug, Brilinta. Doctors have prescribed the wrong medications, in some cases, and pharmacists have mixed them up as well. Both brand names begin with the same three letters, they look and sound alike and often the pharmacists are not as familiar with the newer medication, Brintellix (so they have accidentally dispensed Brilinta, a more familiar drug). Fortunately, the FDA has not heard any reports of patients actually consuming the wrong medication – the confusion in this case has stopped before real damage is done.

This isn’t a new issue. Confusion among similar drug names has been going on for years. Back in 1993, doctors and patients confused Narcan, a drug given to drug addicts to increase dangerously slow breathing rates, with Norcuron, a muscle relaxant that can stop breathing. The FDA states that medical mistakes are the 3rd leading cause of death in the U.S., and a significant contributor to this statistic is name confusion. As drugs have been approved more quickly over the years, it’s created a steady stream of unfamiliar names among professionals. Look back at Prilosec. It was originally named Losec, but pharmacists complained that it sounded too similar to Lasix, a diuretic. After a 1990 mix-up leading to the death of a patient, Merck spent millions of dollars to change the name to Prilosec. (Of course, since then, it has been confused with Prozac numerous times.) The names are just confusing. Evista and E-Vista. Premarin and Primaxin. Imferon and Interferon. Nicoderm and Nitroderm. Paxil and Taxol.

So as a consumer of medication, we remind you to be your own advocate and to adhere to the following precautions when receiving a prescription:

  • Look at the name on the bottle and inspect the appearance of the tablet.
  • Ask your pharmacist if the name on the prescription or description of the medicine’s use is different from what you expected.
  • Read the medication guides that come with your prescription – this is informative plus a nice “checks and balances” piece – and if the medication’s use seems different from what you expected, talk with your doctor.
  • Ask your physician to include the generic name of the drug that he/she is prescribing (so that the pharmacist can understand intent).
  • Report any adverse affects to the FDA MedWatch program.
  • Always have a handle on what medicines you are taking and why you are taking them – and share all information with your doctor and your pharmacist.