According to a 1999 study by the Institute of Medicine, as many as 98,000 deaths result each year from medical errors. And more than 7,000 of those fatalities are related to medications.

Since 2000, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has received more than 95,000 reports ofmedication errors. The actual number of errors could be higher as these are voluntary reports. A medication error is any preventable event that may cause or lead to inappropriate medication use or harm to a patient.

In 2000, a number of federal agencies, including the FDA, joined forces to form the Quality Interagency Task Force to improve the collection of data on patient safety in this country. As part of this effort, the FDA put an increased emphasis on drug safety, and in 2002 launched a new division dedicated specifically to medication errors.

FDA’s Efforts to Reduce Medication Errors

Here are a few of the FDA’s actions since then to reduce medication errors:

  • In 2004, an FDA proposed rule went into effect requiring bar codes on the labels of various drugs and biological products. The bar codes are scanned to better ensure the proper administration of medications, so that, for example, the right drug is given to the right patient at the right time.
  • The FDA now requires all over-the-counter products to feature a drug facts label, which describes what the medicine is supposed to do, how to use it, and who shouldn’t take it. The rule has made this information more uniform for all labeling.
  • The agency reviews about 400 proposed drug names a year submitted by companies in an effort to reduce confusion between similar sounding names. Reportedly, the FDA rejects about a third of the names the drug companies submit.
  • Similar to its review of drug names, the FDA reviews labels and packaging of drugs to minimize mix-ups that could be caused by similar designs.
  • Public education is a part of the mix as the FDA produces public health advisories regarding medication error as well as medication guides and other joint educational efforts with outside organizations.
  • The FDA routinely analyzes errors – reviewing about 1,400 reports of medication error each month – to try and unearth the cause and type of error.

How You Can Help Prevent Medication Errors

There are numerous reasons for medication errors; many factors are out of the control of the patient, especially during emergency medical treatments and hospital stays. But while the FDA and other agencies are working to reduce medication errors, there are steps patients can take to help avoid them.

  • Communicate to all your doctors about all the medications you are taking, including prescription and over-the-counter. Make sure that all your doctors have your key health information details.
  • Let your doctors know if you have allergies or have suffered adverse reactions to medicines.
  • Double-check with the pharmacy when you pick up your prescription that it is the medicine your doctor prescribed. Always ask the pharmacist or your doctor if you have any questions about the medications prescribed, including any possible side effects.