The Riskiest Time to Visit the Pharmacy

If you can avoid having prescriptions filled at the start of the month, you’ll skip long lines and lower the risk of receiving a potentially harmful mistake, suggests a study published in Pharmacotherapy.

It found that deaths due to prescription-drug errors—which include patients given the wrong drug, or the right drug at the wrong dose—rise by as much as 25 percent during this time. “Pharmacies usually get a surge of prescription orders at the beginning of the month, when various government-assistance payments are made to seniors, the chronically ill, and Medicaid patients,” says study leader David P. Phillips, Ph.D., professor of sociology at the University of California, San Diego. “When workloads go up, so do error rates.”

Dr. Phillips and his team saw this trend when they analyzed data on deaths between 1979 and 2000 that were attributed to all kinds of medication accidents. To protect yourself, go over your prescription with your doctor; make sure you’re clear on the drug’s name, dosage and purpose. Then at the drugstore, double-check with the pharmacist that you are indeed being given what your doctor ordered, especially if your doctor’s handwriting on the prescription form is at all difficult to decipher (drugs that are very different in purpose can have names with similar spelling). Also, confirm your own name and address on the label to make sure you haven’t been handed someone else’s medication. — Susan Chaityn Lebovits

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