Illinois and Chicago Officials Consider Measures to Reduce Pharmacy Errors
In the wake of an investigation that found an alarming error rate in Chicago pharmacies, Illinois lawmakers and Chicago aldermen considered proposals intended to reduce pharmacy mistakes.
In December, the Chicago Tribune published a report revealing that half of Chicago-area pharmacies neglected to warn patients of dangerous drug combinations. Reporters visited 255 pharmacies carrying prescriptions for two medications that should never be taken together. In 52 percent of the pharmacies, they received no warning that the drug combination could cause serious injury or death. CVS missed the error 63 percent of the time, and Walgreens had a 30 percent failure rate. Both national chains and independent companies were among the pharmacies that failed the Tribune’s test.
In February, Rep. Mary Flowers, D-Chicago, introduced legislation intended to keep pharmacists from being overworked, which is a major factor in the cause of errors. The proposed law would restrict how many hours pharmacists work each day, limit the number of prescriptions filled per hour and add a requirements for meal breaks. At a hearing on the proposal, a representative of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association said that other measures pushed by Gov. Bruce Rauner would be sufficient to address the problems raised by the Tribune report. The governor proposed changes to inspection procedures, and new requirements that pharmacists counsel first-time patients or those with prescription changes. Flowers maintained that Rauner’s proposals fell short, because pharmacists would still be pushed by their employers to fill prescriptions faster.
On March 28, Chairman Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, brought a proposal before the Chicago City Council Finance Committee to limit pharmacists’ work hours. The proposal would require Chicago pharmacies to limit the number of prescriptions pharmacists fill per hour, restrict the hours that they work, require meal and break time, and protect whistleblowers who speak up when the rules are not followed. Burke said the city-only proposal was modeled on Rep. Flowers’ proposed state legislation. He added that special interests in Springfield were slowing down action by the state, and he hoped the Chicago measure would be a catalyst for the statewide effort. A Skokie pharmacist and a Teamsters official testified in support of the measure, but pharmacy lobbyists said the proposal was unconstitutional, because only the state should regulate the industry.
According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, medication mistakes cause injury to 1.3 million people annually, and at least one person dies every day from a drug error.
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