Many people that are prescribed medication by physicians may be fortunate that they only take one medication, but the reality is that most people who take prescriptions are prescribed more than one drug. While this may be beneficial to their health problems, combining drugs can lead to serious consequences and needs to be monitored closely for side effects and even deadly outcomes. Fortunately, pharmacists are educated to catch these potential problems, especially since people may be getting prescriptions from multiple physicians, and each physician may not be aware of other medications the patient is taking. Technology can help with this as well, but only if it is properly and consistently utilized.
According to the Center For Disease Control, approximately 33 percent of the public is taking more than one prescription medication. This means that drug interactions are a real possibility and a threat to a significant portion of the American public. These interactions could include things like decreased effectiveness of the medication, increased effectiveness of the medication that could lead to problems like dangerously low blood pressure, and allergic reactions, including deadly reactions, particularly with antibiotics and psychotropic medications. It’s vital that pharmacies stay on top of these potentiated risks for each patient who is filling prescriptions, and therefore, they are regularly audited to see if that is happening and what percentage of possible interactions they are missing. This must be done to allow the business to maintain their accreditation and certification as a pharmacy.
The problem is a pervasive one, according to the Chicago Tribune. According to The Tribune, reporters tested 255 pharmacies to see if they would catch potentially dangerous and life-threatening reactions such as commonly seen between antibiotics and some anti-cholesterol medications. According to The Tribune, they were not warned of the reactions a full 52 percent of the time.
According to The Tribune, CVS, who is the nation’s leading prescription drug retailer, had the worst record, failing to warn people of possible dangerous interactions 63 percent of the time. Walgreens, who is the major competitor for CVS, did far better at missing the mark 30 percent of the time, but that’s still sobering when one considers that is still nearly one out of every three patients not being properly informed about potential interactions. Walmart checked in at 43 percent failure rate, and all pharmacies combined had a troubling 52 percent failure rate. While the study was more practical than scientific, it did demonstrate some major flaws in pharmacies and how they operate.
Carmen Catizone, executive director of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, said that professional standards for pharmacies are clear, and there is no excuse for these major health threats.
“Any time there is a risk of serious interaction, there is no excuse for pharmacies to not warn people about that interaction.”
Of note, pamphlet warnings given to patients are not good enough to pass the test as some people cannot read or are reading on a level under the cognitive level at which the pamphlet is written. Warnings should come from the pharmacist and always be face to face and carried out verbally. However, this isn’t happening the majority of the time, and this leads to the question as to why it is not.
The answer is simple and frightening. Most pharmacy chains are pressured to please the consumer, who according to surveys, values speed in filling their prescription over anything else. In a hustle and bustle society, this is a reality, but is it really pragmatic to expect a pharmacy to be as timely as fast food chains?
Deepak Chande, a former head pharmacist for CVS, says the pressure to get prescriptions out as fast as possible is very real, and it frequently causes safety checks to be missed.
“Every prescription is timed and this is the worst of the pharmacist’s nightmares. It’s an unreal pressure. Your mind is kind of frantically trying to obey it.”
While most pharmacies vowed to incorporate major changes as a result of this report, it still is a concern. If a consumer has any concerns about the safety of drug interactions, it may be wise to ask to speak directly to a pharmacist.
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