Lynne Calloway had been taking a newly refilled arthritis prescription for a few days when she mentioned she wasn’t feeling well.

So her husband, Joseph Calloway, did some investigating. When he looked up her medication in a book detailing prescription drugs, he said, he discovered that she had been given the wrong one.

A CVS in New Jersey had mistakenly dispensed a chemotherapy drug, he said, that could be used to treat arthritis, but only when taken at limited frequencies — commonly a single dose a week. Mrs. Calloway had been taking her medication twice a day.

Pharmacy errors come in various forms, and many pharmacists at retail chains across the country are increasingly worried about making mistakes, an investigation by The New York Times found.

They say they are juggling too many tasks without enough help. One pharmacist acknowledged making 10 to 12 errors a year — “that are caught” — in an anonymous letter to the South Carolina Board of Pharmacy.

While patients cannot control what happens behind the pharmacy counter, they can be on the lookout for errors. These simple steps can help.

Talk to the pharmacist

Yes, they may look busy, and probably are, but pharmacists are the best source of information about the drugs they dispense. Ask to speak with a pharmacist, especially when the prescription involves a medication that is new to you. Inquire about side effects and whether the new drug is safe in combination with any others you are already taking.

Pharmacists are supposed to check for drug interactions when dispensing prescriptions, and have computerized alerts to help, but they can get distracted.

Just by asking questions, a patient increases the odds that the pharmacist will take a second look at the prescription — and catch any errors. The Institute for Safe Medication Practices suggests asking the pharmacist at least one question, such as, “Is there anything special I should know about taking this medicine?”


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