Prescription drug overdose is a common type of medical malpractice caused by doctors, other prescribers, and pharmacists. I’m not talking about overdoses caused by patients who decide to swallow too many pills. I’m talking about the problem of doctors writing prescriptions for the wrong dosage and pharmacists filling them.
As part of the prescription drug approval process regulated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), drug manufacturers publish detailed prescription instructions that are printed on package inserts that are provided with the drugs. These are written in a complex language designed to be read and understood by physicians and pharmacists.
Prescription drug package inserts often recommend a different dosage for adults and children, or that the prescriber titrate or calculate the right dosage based on the patient’s weight.
Ordering the wrong dosage can have devastating and sometimes deadly results. I read about a tragic case involving a six-year-old boy with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). He was one of the many thousands of young people who receive medical treatment for this condition.
This little boy’s doctor prescribed him with a medication called imipramine. The drug manufacturer’s package insert for this medication warned that the maximum dosage for children was weight-dependent, calculated at 2.5 mg of medication per kilogram of the child’s weight daily. This patient weighed 25 kg, so the maximum dosage was 62.5 mg.
The doctor didn’t pay attention to the dosage instructions and instead prescribed 200 mg of the drug imipramine daily—that’s over three times the maximum dose. Sadly, this boy paid for his doctor’s mistake with his life. He collapsed at school and was taken by ambulance to the hospital, where he died of heart complications.
Some prescription dosage errors occur because physicians and prescribers don’t take the time to familiarize themselves with package inserts. Others are simply because of human error, likely from being rushed and not paying attention.
The Institute for Safe Medication Practices has reported that one of the most common medication dosage mistakes is the so-called 10-fold dosage error. You read that right—with this error, the doctor, nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant is sloppy and writes a prescription for 10 times the correct dosage.
Many medication errors used to be blamed on the legendary poor handwriting of doctors on prescription forms. Yet even in an era where prescriptions are typed into the computer and transmitted electronically to the pharmacy, some blatant prescription errors simply aren’t caught.
This always surprises me because pharmacies have sophisticated computer systems that are designed to provide warnings to pharmacists and pharmacy techs to prevent medication errors. In my experience, pharmacists, too, make mistakes in dispensing and filling wrong medications or dosages by being rushed and not taking advantage of systems that are designed to promote patient safety.
As a Houston, Texas medical malpractice lawyer, I recommend having conversation with your prescriber and pharmacy on how new medication dosages are calculated. Just asking a polite question may trigger the extra attention necessary to avoid a serious error and terrible outcome.
If you’ve been seriously injured because of a medication or drug error, then I urge you to contact a top-rated Houston, Texas medical malpractice attorney for help in evaluating your potential case.