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Safety Alert: Add LASA to Your Acronym List

Most of us are familiar with the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This agency is largely responsible for the regulation and safety of food and drugs in this country.  

Occasionally, the FDA attracts controversy. I am not going to step in to the storm of opinions about the FDA. Rather, I want to call readers’ attention to another organization, one without government ties: the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP).

ISMP is the first non-profit organization dedicated to the collaborative development, education, and advocacy of safe medication practices. It has been in existence for more than30 years. ISMP has an impressive record of improving safe medication practices.

Most recently, I received a notice of ISMP’s campaign to increase awareness about drugs that look-alike and sound-alike (LASA). ISMP has named these the List of Confused Drug Names.

ISMP recommends using the list to determine which medications require special safeguards to reduce the risk of errors and minimize harm. This may include strategies such as:

  • Using both the brand and generic names on prescriptions and labels
  • Including the purpose of the medication on prescriptions
  • Configuring computer selection screens to prevent look-alike names from appearing consecutively
  • Changing the appearance of look-alike product names to draw attention to their dissimilarities

Some of the drugs on the list are extremely common. Further, they aren’t medicines that I would want my doctor or pharmacist to confuse. For instance, if I am taking the anti-inflammatory medicine Celebrex, Cerebyx or Celexa would not be welcome substitutes.  It would be disastrous to confuse epinephrine and ephedrine.

You can reduce your risk of a medication error by taking an active role in your own health care. Here is how:

  • Learn about the medications you take. Read the package information. Ask questions and discuss your concerns with your doctor, pharmacist and other health care providers.
  • Be sure your health team knows all the prescriptions, supplements, recreational drugs and over-the-counter medication you are taking. Ask if there is potential for interactions between your drugs or any food that you might take.
  • Notify you health care provider about any medications that you’re allergic to or that have caused problems for you in the past.
  • Let your doctor know if you may be pregnant.
  • Never cut, crush or chew a pill unless your doctor or pharmacist says it’s safe.
  • When possible, use the same pharmacy for all your prescriptions.
  • Before taking a medication, check to see if it is on the LASA list. If so, ask your pharmacist to confirm that the drug he or she filled is indeed the one prescribed.
  • Report side effects or other reactions to your doctor.
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