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Drug shortage can lead to medication errors

Pennsylvania's United States Senator, Bob Casey, has attempted to introduce legislation that would address a perceived drug shortage in the United States as it has felt that the nation is dealing with one of the worst drug shortages in 40-years. Such a shortage can also have unanticipated consequences that have resulted in a number of medication errors throughout the nation.

When doctors are short on particular medications, the temptation is then to prescribe a number of drugs that these doctors are personally not familiar with. When doctors are familiar with a drug such as morphine, they generally know what would and would not be the appropriate dosage. When they are prescribing an unfamiliar drug, the dangers of prescribing too much or too little become very real.

Throughout 2011, many physicians had prescribed a medication called hydromorphone or Dilaudid instead of morphine. However, it has since been discovered that hydromorphone is nearly seven times as potent as morphine. A number of fatal errors were reported where doctors were prescribing hydromorphone in the same dosages as morphine.

Though it is up to drug manufacturers and pharmacists to provide sufficient information in the labeling of such drugs, physicians still share in the blame when such mistakes are made. Ultimately physicians have to be sufficiently aware of the drugs before they prescribe and administer them to patients. Otherwise, attorneys and their clients can hold such physicians as being medically negligent.

There have been other problems during this time of drug shortage as well including administering drugs past the expiration dates for such medications. Unfortunately, it appears that the drug shortage may last for some time and vigilance must be taken by physicians to make sure that medication errors do not continue while this is occurring.

Source: philly.com, "Time to fix the drug shortage crisis," March 19, 2012

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