In recent weeks evidence of medication tampering has emerged which has led to the recall of prescription only Valium; a medication containing the active ingredient Diazepam. Investigations are continuing as to how the packets of medication, which were to contain Valium, actually contained different medications including Codeine. It is suspected that the blister packets containing Valium were removed and replaced with different blister packets containing tablets of a similar weight and size so as to allow the theft to go undetected.
Despite the early stage at which the investigations are at and the uncertainty as to the number of packets affected and the period during which the alleged tampering occurred, the manufacturer, Roche Australia, has acted quickly to recall all packets of Valium 5mg which contain 50 tablets. The speed with which Roche has acted serves as a reminder as to the serious health risks posed when a person takes the wrong medication. Naturally, a medication mix-up is not only of concern because an individual is going without a medication for which they have been prescribed, but because the medication they are inadvertently taking may be contraindicated or may otherwise result in adverse health outcomes.
The situation involving Roche is an unusual one and most cases involving medication mix-ups are far less sinister. Unfortunately, however, medication mix-ups are not uncommon and in some situations a mix-up may fall within the scope of what is regarded as medical negligence. In this context, medication mix-ups include situations when someone is prescribed a medication for which they are contraindicated or allergic, where a pharmacist incorrectly fills a script, or when a nurse administers the wrong medication to a patient.
Research suggests that one of the leading causes of errors leading to the prescription or administration of the wrong medication is the tendency towards using brand names to identify the medications, rather than the use of the generic name. In Australia in 2010 a meagre 19.5% of scripts written by GPs used the generic name for a drug, compared with 83% in the United Kingdom. Research suggests that the use of a medication’s generic name has the potential to simply the language around medication, leading to fewer medication errors by health professionals and consumers.
Whatever the cause of a medication mix-up, it can have serious health implications, including permanent injury and death. At Turner Freeman we have lawyers who specialise in medical negligence claims. Our Sydney partner, Sally Gleeson, has a dedicated practice in medical law. If you or someone you know has suffered as a result of medical negligence, including a situation in which you, or someone you know, has been prescribed or administered the wrong medication, we encourage you to call us on 13 43 63 to speak with one of our medical law experts today.