Preventing Harm from Medicines

December 2, 2011

Medicines are powerful. They can cure disease, relieve symptoms, and help you stay healthy. But they can also do a lot of damage if taken incorrectly, when not needed, when prescribed inappropriately, or in case of medicine overdose.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) believes that many medication-related risks can be prevented if everyone committed to the safe use of medicines works together. Acting on that belief, the agency launched the Safe Use Initiative in November 2009 to foster collaborations within the health care community that will help prevent medication errors, misuse, and abuse.

Studies estimate that up to 50 percent of harm from medication use could be prevented. According to the Institute of Medicine, this would translate into about 1.5 million preventable incidents each year.

The goal of the Safe Use Initiative is to

  • identify specific, preventable harm related to medication use
  • develop methods (interventions or strategies) to reduce harm
  • identify ways to measure the success of these interventions

Tens of millions of people in the U.S. take prescription or over-the-counter (non-prescription) medicines each year, says Karen Weiss, M.D., director of the Safe Use Initiative. “If we can reduce injury that occurs because people are not prescribing or taking medications optimally, we can improve their individual health and the health of the public.”

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