A nurse in Albany, N.Y., mistakenly gave them the wrong doses, and now their families are suing. Attorney Daniel Santola, who is representing the victims, thinks "we have a tendency in our society to focus our attention on the advancements made in medical technology, and what we forget to look at is the basics, which is killing us."
When it comes to the medical mistakes blamed for killing tens of thousands of Americans each year , errors involving prescription drugs are among the greatest culprits. "It's inevitable," says Dr. Ray Woosley, Georgetown University Medical Center. "If you prescribe medications you will either make a mistake or you will create an environment where mistakes can occur."
The cause can be as simple as bad handwriting. In Texas, one pharmacist who chanced a guess at the drug name on an illegible prescription caused a patient's death. What's in a name? Woosley offers the pills Norvasc and Navein as an example. Though the two are very different medications, he says, "when written, they look very much alike."
When confused, they can be lethal. Yet drug companies use similar names, like Celebrex and Celexa, despite a lack of shelf space and so much room for error. Until now, no one was keeping track.
"If I pull out of the parking lot tonight on the way home and bump into a car the law says I have to call and report it," Woosley explains. "But there's no law that says I have to call and report it if I kill someone with the next prescription I write."
The medical and pharmaceutical industries have escaped such regulation in the past. For example, a common parking ticket has to be written legibly or it's legally invalid -- but a prescription that could save or kill you, does not.
One company is now developing the MD Pad, a hand-held electronic prescription pad with a built in printer; patients then carry the printout to the pharmacy. But ultimately, patients themselves need to check and recheck to make sure that what they need is actually what's in the bottle.