What can I do if the pharmacy gives me the wrong drug?

Published: May 08, 2014 04:15 PM

Check with the pharmacy right away if the color or shape of your drug is not what you expected. If they’ve made a mistake, ask them to replace the wrong medication for the correct one. A good pharmacy should also offer an explanation, an apology, and reimbursement for any extra costs. Make sure your doctor is aware of the error, especially if you’ve already started taking the medication and have experienced unpleasant side effects.

Bar code scanning and pill imaging software can reduce mistakes at the pharmacy, but technology hasn’t caught up to human error. Busy pharmacists, illegible handwriting, sloppy pronunciation, and drug label similarities all increase the potential for dispensing and dosing mix-ups. And look-alike or sound-alike drug names, such as Lamictal (used to treat seizures and bipolar disorder) and Lamisil (for fungal infections), can add to the confusion. “The pharmacist or physician may choose the wrong product from a drop-down menu or misread the name of the drug on the prescription,” Michael R. Cohen, R.Ph., president of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, said.

To stay safe, when your doctor prescribes a drug, ask him or her to print the name and dosage for you, and then spell it back to him or her aloud. If it’s a brand-name drug, make note of the generic name as well. Cohen also recommends asking your doctor to write the drug’s intended purpose on the prescription. When you pick up your drug from the pharmacy, ask the pharmacist to confirm the medication is intended to treat the condition for which your doctor prescribed it, and read the labels and inspect the contents. If you suspect an error or a refill doesn’t look the same as your usual medication, ask the pharmacist to double-check.

 “Don’t leave the pharmacy without opening the bag and looking at it to make sure it’s for you, and also look inside the pill container to be sure it’s what you expect,” Cohen said. “People don’t look inside. They go home and start taking the medicine, and only later learn it was for someone else.”

—Ginger Skinner


Related Information:

Finding the right pharmacy

Best pill ID apps

Are drugs made in India safe?

Editor's Note:

This article and related materials are made possible by a grant from the state Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program, which is funded by the multistate settlement of consumer-fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin (gabapentin).

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