More than 1.5 million Americans are harmed each year as the direct result of medication errors. Of those, about 7,000 will die from potentially preventable adverse drug effects. The sobering facts are what stand behind the Food and Drug Administration’s recent funding of a program titled “Novel Interventions and Collaborations to Improving the Safe Use of Medications.” As one of the first 10 institutions to take part in this program, the University has begun an initiative to standardize the liquid concentrations of pediatric medications to reduce the frequency of these types of medical errors. This is precisely the kind of frontier innovation the University should continue to strive for. By standardizing liquid concentrations across the state, the incidence of these medical errors will decrease and lives will be saved. The University should be commended for its participation in this potentially life-saving program.

There is a risk of dosing errors when a patient is given medication. Previous initiatives that have reduced the risk of medical errors include computerized ordering of pharmaceuticals and efforts to standardize medical shorthand and abbreviations. The University study will attempt to find a way to prevent errors when pharmacists compound medications.

The FDA’s initiative was recently launched and the standards were published on as part of a statewide campaign to educate patients, physicians, prescribers and pharmacists, supported by a $150,000 grant. The first part of this program will focus on pediatric patient populations since they are especially sensitive due to their small bodies, still-developing physiologies and the proportionately large number of liquid medications they are prescribed that must be compounded. To alleviate this problem, more than 110 different oral liquid medications for pediatric patients across a variety of therapeutic categories will now be given the same standardized concentration. Given that some pharmacies in Michigan use concentration levels that are up to 30 times higher than those of other pharmacies, this push for standardization is much needed.

Endorsed by the Michigan’s Academy of Physician Assistants, Michigan Health and Hospital Association, Michigan Pharmacist Association, Michigan Osteopathic Association and Michigan State Medical Society, this initiative has received broad medical support from across the state that will no doubt foster meaningful collaboration when the program is implemented statewide. Notably missing from these official endorsements are any political or legislative bodies working on behalf of the state.

Gov. Rick Snyder, who has tended to focus on access and prevention when formulating medical legislation — with the elimination of taxes on certain medications and the creation of Healthy Michigan Plan — has yet to endorse this initiative since it was first conceived in 2011. While the federal program only in its infancy, the state should make an effort to support this program where it can, when it can.

With the proximate goal of saving the lives of children and the ultimate goal of eliminating preventable medical errors, this initiative — supported by the University, state doctors and the federal government — is worth our full support and that of the state legislature.

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