Using data from national Poison Control Centers, researchers analyzed the more than 67,000 reports of medication errors occurring outside of a health care facility between 2000 - 2012 and found the rate of serious medical consequences doubled during this period. The greatest number of errors involved cardiovascular medications and the greatest number of deaths were from pain medication errors. The study was published last week in the journal Clinical Toxicology.

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According to a 2016 CDC report,  almost half (48.9%) of all Americans take at least one prescription drug and about 12% take more than five. With people taking more medication than ever before, medication errors are on the rise. To put the problem in perspective, the National Academy of Sciences - Institute of Medicine estimates that at least 1.5 million preventable medication errors occur each year, or about 171 per hour. While the majority occur in health care facilities (nursing homes, hospitals, etc.,) 93% of the errors analyzed in this study, occurred at home.  The most common medication error at home was taking/giving an incorrect dose, followed by taking/giving the medication twice, taking/giving someone else’s medication, and taking/giving the wrong medication.

Medication errors can have very serious consequences especially so with errors involving blood thinners, pain medications and cancer treatments.  About a third of those in the study above were admitted into the hospital for treatment as a result of the error, including intensive or critical care for 17% of them. For 414 people, the medication error resulted in death.

Below are some tips for preventing medication errors:

  • If you take/give a number of medications everyday, keep a written record of the time you  take/give them
  • If more than one person in the house takes medications: 
                o   get different color organizers for each person
                      and put their names on them.

                        o   color code the pill bottle caps with permanent
                              marker (ex. blue for dad, pink for mom, green for

  • If you have trouble swallowing a large pill, ask if the medication can be made as a liquid rather than trying to cut a pill in half.
  • Ask the health professional giving you the prescription to print on a separate piece of paper, the name of the drug, why you are taking it, how much you are to take and how often. When you pick up your prescription, check it against what you have written.
  • When you pick up your prescription, ask the pharmacist what you should do if you miss a dose.
  • Make sure of the dose before leaving the pharmacy. Is it the whole pill, half a pill or two pills.
  • Know the generic and brand names of any new medication so you can check to see if you are already taking it under a different name. (For example, the heart medication Lanoxin is the brand name of digoxin –they are the same medication. Coumadin and warfarin sodium are the same medication used to prevent blood clots).
  • If the prescription is liquid, use the measuring cup that comes with it.  Do NOT use spoons from your kitchen.

If you take or give an incorrect dose, incorrect medication, take/give the medication twice, give the wrong person medication, or make any other medication error, call Poison Control immediately.

                                       Poison Control - 1-800-222-1222

For more information:

Preventing medication errors
National Academy of Sciences – Institute of Medicine

How to prevent medication errors
Institute for Safe Medication Practices

Strategies to reduce medication errors

Taking medication safely
National Institutes of Health – senior health

Medication safety basics
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

American Association of Poison Control Centers

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Medication safety basics