Medicine-related deaths are killing more people than heart attacks or cancer.
And one in three prescriptions checked by a medication screening program had an error, according to a new book launched today.
Around half a million Australians experience an adverse effect from their prescription medication every year, says pharmacist Ken Lee, whose study "How Safe is Your Prescription" will be launched at the Australian Pharmacy Professional Conference today.
His research shows about 190,000 hospital admissions a year are associated with medicines and their harmful side effects. And the inappropriate use of medicine is costing Australia about $660 million a year.
His research is based on 21,733 consultations in Australian community pharmacies between August 2008 and July 2009 using the Chemconsult prescription safety check system.
One of the examples of a prescription error in the book could have had a deadly outcome when a doctor mistakenly prescribed a 12-year-old girl a 250mg dose of a powerful barbiturate used in epilepsy instead of an antibiotic to treat tonsillitis. "That starting dose could cause death in the young girl!" the book says.
Mr Lee says errors like this can be avoided if patients simply ask their pharmacists what the medicine they have been prescribed is used for.
He lists dosing errors, allergic responses and drug interactions as other common errors.
To solve the problem, Mr Lee wants improved teamwork between doctors and community pharmacies to reduce these adverse outcomes, and for patients to ask more questions about the medicines they use.