Fatal Drug Errors and the Elderly

When drug errors affect older Americans, they are more serious, as drugs affect them differently than younger people. Often a full dose for a younger person is too much for our elders.

Recent studies done across the nation are showing that over half of the residents in care homes are victims of prescription errors. These errors may be anything from uncomfortable side effects to death. Who is responsible for the medication errors? Typically, the people who cause medication errors are nursing home staff, pharmacists and other physicians treating the elderly.

The unfortunate thing when dealing with medication mess ups and the elderly is that even the smallest of goofs may end up being a royal disaster. It only takes one small error to set off a chain of cascading mistakes that may have deadly results.

The studies are showing that the reported mistakes are just the tip of the iceberg; and if you take into account the sheer size of the senior population these days, even the “small” proportion of reported screw-ups are likely representational of many, many more.

Most seniors that took part in the studies were taking, on average, as many as six to eight medications. The potential for drug interactions and reactions with that many drugs is staggering. In some of the cases studied, the family physician prescribed the wrong drug or didn’t consider how a new one would interfere or interact with an existing one. It’s a known fact that any more than three drugs on board can set a person up for a severe drug interaction problem.

Going from a nursing home care setting to the hospital is a situation fraught with all kinds of opportunities for mistakes. Many times the seniors don’t come in with enough information and many times they don’t leave hospital with enough information either. This is a two-way street where communication is essential, and it doesn’t seem to be happening.

Consider the disturbing story of a 90 year old D-Day vet whose prescription for morphine was faxed to a hospital. One of the decimal points was overlooked in the dosage. He died of a massive morphine overdose. Or consider the case of a 76 year old woman who was on 12 medications and hoarded them in her room, and no one thought to check to see if they were compatible or if she was actually taking them. She died of an overdose. There are many more cases that have made the nightly news, and will continue to find their way into the mainstream media. Our job is to “do” something to stop the mistakes.

Caring for the elderly is not easy due to the delicate equilibrium a physician must take to balance one drug and condition against another. It takes time, dedication and a lot of up-to-the-minute knowledge that many nursing home care doctors don’t always have or take the time to learn.

This isn’t to say that it’s acceptable to make mistakes. If there is negligence involved and proven, then medical malpractice moves from an abstract concept to a deadly reality.

Michael G. Smith is a Little Rock injury lawyer and Little Rock accident lawyer, practicing personal injury law in Little Rock Arkansas. To learn more about Little Rock injury lawyer, Little Rock accident lawyer, Little Rock person injury lawyer, Little Rock malpractice lawyer, Little Rock injury attorney, Little Rock wrongful death attorney, visit Arkansaslawhelp.com.