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The medication-use process is highly complex with many steps and risk points for error, and those errors are a key target for improving safety. This Library reflects a curated selection of PSNet content focused on medication and drug errors. Included resources explore understanding harms from preventable medication use, medication safety improvement strategies, and resources for design.

MedWatch Safety Alert. Silver Spring, MD: US Food and Drug Administration; October 12, 2021.

This announcement highlights the possibility of medication administration inaccuracy due to design characteristics of a low dose tip (LDT) syringe. Recommended cleaning methods and other actions for patients, families and clinicians are provided to protect dose precision when using these syringes.
Carvalho IV, Sousa VM de, Visacri MB, et al. Pediatr Emerg Care. 2021;37(4):e152-e158.
This study sought to determine the rate of pediatric emergency department (ED) visits due to adverse drug events (ADE). Of 1,708 pediatric patients, 12.3% were admitted to the ED due to ADEs, with the highest rates of admission due to neurological, dermatological, and respiratory medications. The authors recommend the involvement of clinical pharmacists to prevent and identify ADEs in the pediatric population, particularly through education of children’s caregivers and health professionals.
Agarwal M, Lovegrove MC, Geller RJ, et al. J Pediatr. 2020;219.
Parents are advised to keep medications inaccessible to young children to avoid accidental ingestions. This study prospectively enrolled nearly 4,500 individuals calling poison control centers about unsupervised solid dose medication exposure in young children (ages 5 years and younger) to identify the types of containers from which young children accessed these medications. The majority of incidents (71.6%) involved children 2 years and younger. Incidents were equally divided among calls involving prescription-only medications, over-the-counter (OTC) projects requiring child-resistant packaging, and OTC projects not requiring such packaging. One-third of all incidents involved medication that had been removed from the original container; this was more likely in incidents involving prescription drugs compared to OTC drugs (adjusted odds ratio, 3.39; 95% CI, 2.87-4.00).  These findings suggest that unsupervised medication exposures in young children are just as often the result of adults removing medications from original packaging as the result of improper use or failure of child-resistant packaging.

FDA alerts patients and health care professionals of EpiPen auto-injector errors related to device malfunctions and user administration. MedWatch Safety Alert. Silver Spring, MD: US Food and Drug Administration. March 24, 2020.

Device related errors reduce the safety of medications. This announcement highlights concerns associated with the use of epinephrine auto-injectors. Recommendations to address the problem include patient review of instructions and practice with the device to ensure its effective use in emergent situations.
Harrisburg, PA: Patient Safety Authority. ISSN 2641-4716.
The Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority is a long-established source of patient safety data analysis and application-focused commentary. Their publishing output aims to generate improvements in their state as well as throughout health care. This open-access publication replaces the quarterly Pennsylvania Patient Safety Advisory newsletter.
Gordon M. Health Shots. National Public Radio. April 10, 2019.
Punitive responses to medical errors persist despite continued efforts to reduce them. This news article reports on an incident involving the mistaken use of a neuromuscular blocking agent that resulted in the death of a patient, the prosecution of the nurse who made the error, and systemic and human factors that contribute to similar events.
Dickson EJ. Rolling Stone. March 9, 2019.
Unintended consequences of restrictions enacted to combat the opioid crisis are a concern for patients and prescribers. This magazine article reports on an effort to raise awareness of the potential for patient harm due to lack of legitimate access to opioids for chronic pain as a result of the 2016 CDC opioid prescribing guidelines.
Leonard JB, Klein-Schwartz W. Ame J Health-syst Pharm. 2019;76(5):264-265.
Patient and family medication administration mistakes can result in medication errors at home. This commentary describes the problem of "pill dumping," where patients combine their daily medicines into a spare vial. However, patients are at risk for mistakenly taking a vial of a single medication instead of their pill-dump vial and inadvertently overdosing. The authors suggest medication counseling and use of daily pill boxes as tactics to prevent this type of error.
Dembosky A. All Things Considered and KQED. January 23, 2019.
Policy, practice, and communication strategies have been implemented in an effort to stem the opioid crisis and prescribing activities that contribute to misuse. This news article and accompanying webcast discuss an initiative in California that sends letters to prescribers whose patients have died due to opioid overdose. The piece outlines unintended consequences associated with the practice, including clinician reluctance to prescribe opioids for pain. An Annual Perspective discussed the patient safety aspects of the opioid epidemic.
MedWatch Safety Alert. Silver Spring, MD: US Food and Drug Administration; November 14, 2018.
This safety announcement raises awareness of pump failures, dosing errors, and other potential safety issues associated with implanted pumps. Recommendations to enhance safety include review of medication labeling to select appropriate medicines and concentrations as well as open discussions with patients about risks associated with pump and medication options.
Jalal H, Buchanich JM, Roberts MS, et al. Science (1979). 2018;361.
Opioid overdose deaths remain a threat to patient safety. Information about how overdose deaths are nationally distributed is critical to inform prevention efforts. This robust analysis examined all drug overdose deaths in the United States over a 38-year period. Drug overdoses began increasing exponentially long before the opioid prescribing boom in the mid-1990s and continue to rise in this way. Demographically distinct subepidemics of prescription opioid, synthetic opioid, and stimulant use all contribute to drug overdose deaths as a whole. The authors speculate about what factors other than opioid prescribing might drive escalating substance use-related deaths. An Annual Perspective and a PSNet perspective provide further insights into how safety efforts can reduce opioid-related harm.
Meyer-Massetti C, Meier CR, Guglielmo J. Int J Clin Pharm. 2018;40:325-334.
The incidence of preventable adverse events in patients receiving home care has been found to be comparable to hospitalized patients. This review sought to characterize medication errors in home care patients and found that the most common type of medication error was the prescribing of potentially inappropriate medications to elderly patients.
An older man admitted for the third time in 4 weeks for an exacerbation of congestive heart failure expressed his wishes to focus on comfort and pursue hospice care. Comfort measures were initiated and other treatments were stopped. The care team wrote for a standing dose of IV hydromorphone every 4 hours. The night shift nurse administered the scheduled dose at 3:00 AM. At 7:00 AM, the palliative care attending found the patient obtunded, with shallow respirations and a low respiratory rate.
Mack JW, Jacobson J, Frank D, et al. Jt Comm J Qual Patient Saf. 2017;43:498-507.
Previous research has established that patient complaints can shed light on patient safety concerns. This analysis of 266 patient complaints in cancer care found that more than 40% were interpersonal in nature, whereas 11% were related to quality and safety. The authors suggest ongoing, systematic analysis of patient complaints in order to identify suboptimal care.
Parand A, Faiella G, Franklin BD, et al. Ergonomics. 2018;61:104-121.
Informal caregivers can make errors in administering medications to patients in home settings. This human factors analysis identified multiple vulnerabilities, including incorrect dosing, storage, timing, and failure to discontinue medications as instructed. The authors note an overall lack of support and communication for caregiver-administered medications in home and community settings.
Yin S, Parker RM, Sanders LM, et al. Pediatrics. 2017;140(1):e20163237.
Inaccurate dosing of liquid medications for pediatric patients is known to contribute to medication errors. In this randomized controlled trial, parents of children younger than 9 were able to demonstrate a correct liquid medication dose when they received a dosing tool, such as a syringe, that corresponded more closely to the prescribed medication volume. Directions that include a picture were more likely to lead to accurate dosing compared to text-only instructions. This study adds to prior research demonstrating the need for literacy-friendly medication instructions, especially for dosing of liquid medications to children. Two of the coauthors, Michael S. Wolf and Stacy C. Bailey, described the implications of limited health literacy on patient safety in a past PSNet perspective.
Harris LM, Dreyer BP, Mendelsohn AL, et al. Acad Pediatr. 2017;17:403-410.
Correctly dosing liquid medications for children can be challenging for caregivers with limited health literacy. This cross-sectional analysis found that parents with limited English proficiency and health literacy were more likely to make dosing errors with liquid medications. These results affirm the need to redesign medication labels and dosing aids to promote safe use.
Walsh KE, Bacic J, Phillips BD, et al. J Patient Saf. 2021;17(3):e177-e185.
This study sought to improve safe at-home pediatric medication administration through an interactive voice response intervention. Researchers found that medication dosing errors and nonadherence were common. The intervention increased medication communication but did not make parents more likely to bring medications to a physician visit as recommended. This study highlights the challenges of safe medication management for outpatients.