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Medication Errors Linked to Wrongful Deaths, Injuries

A study into prescription errors indicates that medication errors are shockingly common and often lead to the wrongful death of patients. One study of Canadian hospitals found that one in 13 patients suffered from a medical malpractice and that a quarter of these medical errors were drug-related.

Pharmacists said that they believed that 10 to 15 percent of the drugs they filled had some error related to bad doctor handwriting or shortcuts in writing-out chemical names and dosages. New software may lessen this problem by allowing doctors to safely use abbreviations and double-check dosage recommendations.

Another recently published study indicates that one of the most dangerous types of medications is sleeping pills. Sleeping pills are commonly prescribed to adults and up to 10 percent of Americans use them. There is evidence however that adults who took even fewer than 18 sleeping pills a year were at a higher risk of death than people who did not take any sleeping pills. Generally, sleeping pill users are about four times more likely to die early than non-pill users.

Doctors warn that sleep deprivation can give rise to chronic conditions which may lead to death, but note that sleeping pills are not without risks.

"Sedation worsens sleep apnea, for example, and we know sleep apnea is associated with risk of death," said one doctor. "We tend to think that a sleeping pill once in a while is harmless, but there's no such thing as a medication free of risk."

Source: Financial Post, "When Pills Kill," Rebecca Walberg, Feb. 28, 2012; ABC News, "Sleeping Pills Linked to Almost Fourfold Increase in Death Risk," Lara Salahi, Feb. 27, 2012

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