What is a Pharmacy Error?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2019
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Pharmacy error is usually the unintentional mistake in the filling of a drug prescription that is made by the pharmacist or other pharmacy employees. Such errors can occur for numerous reasons. Under most circumstances, pharmacy error is not intentional, and could result from poor attention to detail, misreading the details of a prescription, and receiving a prescription that includes an error on the part of the doctor/nurse practitioner, which is then filled. Since these errors can occasionally be of significant harm or even deadly, people should know there are ways to check prescriptions for mistakes.

It is very rare that pharmacy error originates intentionally. The two factors that seem most likely to cause it are drug addiction or money worries/greed. Pharmacists have stolen prescriptions or diluted the strength of drugs. These are more than errors; they are crimes against customers. Pharmacists perpetuating these crimes are often jailed, lose their licenses, and are subject to civil lawsuits.

A pharmacy error is usually not intended. One type is receiving the wrong drug, especially one that looks quite similar to the regular medication prescribed. It may be the same color and dimension, but might have different serial numbers. Serial numbers are usually printed right on prescriptions, and appearance of a drug is normally described in some detail. If a pharmacist goes by description alone and doesn’t check the serial number, the wrong medicine could make it into the bottle.


Another type of pharmacy error is filling an inaccurate prescription, where the error is really the doctor’s. The drug could be wrong or directions on how to take it, or length of time to take it could be wrong. Since many prescriptions are now sent to pharmacies by email, it’s not hard to see how a mistake of this type originates. A simple typo may cause problems with directions, though most pharmacists double-check doctor prescriptions or know exactly how much should be prescribed.

Mixing pharmacy errors might occur too, particularly with liquid medications. These are hardest to catch because they can’t be instantly analyzed like pills. Fortunately, many people can order their prescription in pill form for greater verification.

Many people catch pharmacy errors by inspecting their prescriptions. There are a number of places online to get specific descriptions of most generic medications. Most pills do have identifying information that can be checked against handy drug ID checkers online.

Some people don’t initially think they’ll be victim of pharmacy error, but note that several days of taking a medication is not having its intended effect. Jumping to the conclusion that the drug is just not working isn’t always smart. Instead, checking drug ID at this juncture could be important, or patients could talk to their doctors or pharmacists about the medicine. If sudden illness occurs as a result of taking a drug, particularly one that is not new, patients should definitely get in touch with their doctor.


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