Similar-Sounding Drug Names Contribute to Medical Mistakes

Celexa and Celebrex. Paxil and Plavix.

If you think they sound similar, just imagine the confusion they can cause doctors and pharmacists--and the potential danger they can pose to consumers. Celexa is an antidepressant; Celebrex is an anti-inflammatory. Paxil is an antidepressant; Plavix keeps blood platelets from sticking together.

The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations last week alerted nearly 19,000 hospitals, clinics and nursing homes to the potentially life-threatening consequences of mixing up similar-sounding brand and generic drug names.

Medication errors can occur at many points, such as during the writing of a prescription, or the dispensing of a drug. Not only may a doctor select the wrong name from a computerized drug list, but pharmacists often have trouble interpreting doctors' handwriting. Only adding to the confusion are similar drug packages and the tremendous number of new drugs flowing into the marketplace.

To help reduce the number of incorrect prescriptions, the commission advised health-care organizations to make sure that prescriptions include the purpose of the medication; that all drug labels include both the generic and brand name and that patients receive written information about their medications that includes the brand name and generic name.

The warning is part of a series issued by the commission, which has been working to reduce medical mistakes.

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