What you're missing on your prescription

FRESNO, Calif.

Pills - they're supposed to help you, but if you're not careful they could hurt you.

"There are a lot of medication errors that happen in the U.S," said Dr. Mark Becker, assistant professor of psychology at Michigan state university.

In fact, there are about one and a half million every year in the U.S. Some believe a big part of the problem is that people don't read prescription warning labels.

"It's derailing the whole process early on," Dr. Becker said.

Dr. Becker and packaging experts conducted a study to test that theory. Using eye-tracking technology, they gave people five prescription bottles and asked them to study the bottles like they would at home. Then asked what they remembered.

"People spend a lot of time on that white label," said Raghav Sundar, a MSU grad student.

"Often times, people never even looked at the warning label," Dr. Becker added.

Seventy-one percent of the participants older than 50 failed to see all the brightly colored labels -- 73 percent of young adults did read all the warnings.

"Those that actually spent time on the prescription warning label were able to recall it," Sundar said.

Using bottles from the study, we did our own non-scientific experiment. Mark Weller and Michelle Burke reviewed the bottles, and then we asked what the warnings said.

"Good question. I don't know. I looked at the dosage, how many days you take it and what the drug was. I didn't look at the warnings," Weller admitted.

"I didn't look at the warnings. I guess I just didn't turn it around and look at that other side. I just looked at the main label," Burke said.

Dr. Becker and his team want prescription bottles overhauled. He believes moving the warnings from the side to the front label would prevent a lot of adverse drug events - particularly with older patients.

It's a seemingly simple solution to avoid a potential prescription for disaster.

There are no federal regulations for prescription bottle labeling. Each state sets its own. New York and California have adopted new regulations and the U.S Pharmacopeial Convention is pushing for new standards for every state. A USP official tells us moving the warning label to the front of the bottle could be beneficial, but the USP doesn't recommend that it go on the main white label. Research has shown putting it there could be overwhelming for patients and might cause them to miss important dosage information.


Mark W. Becker
Assistant Professor
Department of Psychology
(517) 432-3367

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