Understanding how they happen and how to avoid them may help people protect themselves from the potentially dangerous effects of medication errors.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 82 percent of people in the U.S. over the age of 18-years-old regularly use at least one medication. Prescribed and over the counter drugs may be used to treat or prevent acute or chronic conditions, as well as to ease symptoms and aid in diagnosing illnesses. Even under the direction of medical professionals; however, medication errors are an unfortunate and all too common occurrence in Virginia and elsewhere, which may result in a worsening of people's medical conditions, the onset of additional ailments or death. Understanding how these types of preventable and potential adverse drug events happen and taking an active role in their own health care may help people protect themselves and their families.

Considered preventable occurrences, medication errors are events that cause or lead to patient harm or inappropriate drug use. Also referred to as preventable or potential adverse drug events, such mistakes may include taking more than the recommended dosage of a medication or taking drugs together that may have dangerous interactions.

Common causes of medication errors

There are numerous steps between when a medication is prescribed and when a patient begins using it, during which any number of mistakes may occur and potentially lead to an adverse drug event. Often, poor communication between providers or between patients and providers contributes to medication errors. This includes ambiguities in the abbreviations used or in providers' writing. Medication errors may also result when people misuse medications as a result of not fully understanding the usage directions.

Taking an active role in prevention

While much of the onus for preventing medication errors falls to medical professionals, there are steps people can take to help avoid potential mistakes. These include the following:

  • Asking for an explanation of drug indications and potential side effects
  • Regularly reconciling medications with their health care providers' lists
  • Storing all drugs in their original containers
  • Saving the information sheets for any medications currently being used
  • Double-checking prescriptions at the pharmacy to ensure they are what was ordered

Further, people should only take medications as directed. Chewing, crushing or cutting certain drugs, for example, may affect their function or change how the body absorbs them.

Seeking legal assistance

When people in Virginia and elsewhere experience medication errors, the effects may be devastating. As a result of worsened conditions or the onset of new illnesses, they may require additional treatment, as well as time off work to recover. This may lead to unexpected medical bills and lost wages. Under some circumstances, though, the medical providers responsible may be held financially liable. Therefore, those who have suffered adverse drug events may benefit from consulting with an attorney to discuss their rights and options for pursuing compensation.