Could You Be Taking the Wrong Medication?

Consider the following scenario: You go to your doctor because you don't feel well. He performs a routine check-up and determines the only remedy to your ailment is a specific medication. He writes the prescription, which you then give to your pharmacist and begin the drug regimen. Everything should be good, right?

Not necessarily. Believe it or not, the prevalence of look-alike and sound-alike medications is causing pharmacists to mistake one drug for another. According to Wolters Kluwer Pharma Solutions, a pharmaceutical research company, 3.9 billion prescriptions were filled in 2009-and 1.7 percent of which were wrongly dispensed. Though the number may seem negligible, the error rate translates into 66 million drug mistakes a year.

Commonly Mistaken Medications

The volume of drug errors has prompted the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take steps toward what they are calling the "Safe Use Initiative," which is aimed at curbing such mistakes. Here, a short list of some commonly mistaken medications.

Cerebyx - Designed to treat seizures

CeleBREX - Used to treat arthritis

Denavir - Used to for reoccurring cold sores

Indinavir - An antiviral medication used for HIV/AIDS

Januvia - A type 2 diabetes medication                     

Enjuvia - Used to treat hot flashes in menopausal women

Valcyte - Designed to treat eye infections in AIDS patients

Valtrex - Typically prescribed to treat genital herpes

A list of 1,500 confusing drug names can be found here

What This Means for You

Taking the wrong medication can be the difference between life and death. However, there are steps you can take to assure you are receiving the care you need and deserve.

1. Be sure that what your doctor says he is prescribing is what is written on the prescription.

2. If your doctor has bad handwriting, kindly ask for him to clarify what has been written.

3. Get a print-out of the prescription. Make sure you can read it. Know the name of the drug and what it's prescribed for.

4. Always talk to the pharmacist. Make sure that the pharmacist tells you and gives you the same drug you expected to receive.