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Report Suggests Trend In Prescription Drug Errors Filled By Pharmacists

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) -- Anyone who has picked up a prescription knows a pharmacy counter can be a busy place that can sometimes lead to mistakes.

"It's a high pace, high stress environment," said a pharmacy technician who did not want to be identified. "Somebody gets the wrong strength of medication; somebody gets the wrong number of pills."

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In one case CBS found an allergy drug was given to a patient instead of a high blood pressure medication. In another, a patient got something for acid reflux instead of an anti-depressant. And an arthritis drug was given to someone who needed a medicine for seizures.

"Somebody is going to get hurt," the pharmacy tech said.

The retired pharmacy technician is concerned about a growing trend called Performance Metrics. It's a system used to measure how many prescriptions a pharmacist fills and how fast. It also counts flu shots and phone calls pharmacists make to patients urging them to fill prescriptions. If they fall behind, they hear about it.

"You didn't make all of your 50 phone calls. I want you to write an action plan to tell me how tomorrow, you are going to get all of your prescriptions filled, get your phone calls made, plus give out x number of flu shots," she said.

CVS wouldn't talk on camera, but a company representative said if Performance Metrics contributed to mistakes they would change the system. But they insist it doesn't.

In a written statement, the company said, "The health and safety of our customers is our number one priority and we have comprehensive policies and procedures in place to ensure prescription safety.

But pharmacists are starting to speak out about Metrics.

"It was very nerve-wracking, very stressful, sometimes tearful," said Susan Holden, who worked under a metrics system at another drug store chain. She thinks it puts too much stress on pharmacists.

"Ultimately, I was afraid of harming a patient," she said.

A survey of nearly 700 pharmacists by the Institute for Medication Practices found that more than 83 percent believed Performance Metrics contributed to dispensing errors.

"It's do more, do more, do quicker," Holden said. "In a worst case scenario it could be a very dangerous prescription error, and I think anybody could draw a conclusion about what could happen."

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy is urging states to restrict the use of Performance Metrics that are proven to compromise safety.

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