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7 Dangerous Drug Mistakes

Experts explain the dangers of mixing drugs, not checking labels, and other common drug mistakes.

6. Not Taking Medications as Directed

"Compliance is a major problem, especially in the elderly," Jenkins says. "As many as one-third of older people don't take medicines as directed." It may be cost related, he says, or simple forgetfulness.

What to do? You can use the boxes that help mind your pills by having a day of the week for each, or simply put your medicines in a place where you will remember to take them. Grissinger's mother, for instance, keeps medication she must take daily on the kitchen windowsill, in full view.

When medicine is prescribed, Jenkins says, ask your doctor if there is a way to take the medicine less often during the day, such as switching to a higher dose or a different medicine that doesn't require as many doses.

While some forget to take medicines, others overdo, says Bates. "Too much of a drug gets people into trouble," he says. And that includes over-the-counter preparations. "People will not get enough relief and will take more thinking it will be helpful." Often, it spells trouble, he says.

7. Not Asking Enough Questions as a Hospitalized Patient

Each year, about 400,000 preventable drug-related injuries occur in U.S. hospitals, according to the Institute of Medicine report.

Speak up, or ask a family member to do so for you, suggests Kathleen R. Stevens, EdD, RN, professor and director of the Academic Center for Evidence-Based Practice at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. Stevens also served on the Institute's committee.

"The most common 'error' is not getting a drug at the right time," she says. "Some drugs are very time-sensitive."

In addition to keeping track of when it's time to get medicine, or asking a family member to help, there are other questions worth asking, she says. When a nurse brings in medicine, she says, ask: "What is this for? What can I expect in terms of responding? Is it not indicated for use with any of the other medications I have?"

You should expect a nurse to ask your name and check your wristband ID before giving you medication, according to the Institute for Safe Medication Practices.

Stevens tells patients to bring to the hospital (or have a family member, if it was an emergency admission) all the medications you are on, including the dose of each.

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Reviewed on September 29, 2006

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