Patient safety authority finds frequent dosing errors with a narcotic drug

Healthcare providers need to know more about the efficacy and potency of hydromorphone, a pain killer frequently used as a morphine substitute in post-operative patients, to avoid medication errors and adverse drug reactions (ADR), says an advisory from the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority (PPSA).

Researchers hired by PPSA reviewed 1,694 medication error and 937 adverse event reports involving hydromorphone from January 2008 to October 2009. They identified lack of knowledge about hydromorphone potency and the difference in potency between morphine and hydromorphone as the most significant factors causing serious medication errors, particularly when a patient is switched from morphine to hydromorphone.

Hydromorphone is administered in doses that range from 0.4 mg to 2 mg, whereas patients may receive as much as 7-10 mg of morphine. Incorrect dosing may occur when prescribing, dispensing or administering hydromorphone when a physician, pharmacist or nurse confuses hydromorphone and morphine. Other medical errors noted in the study were giving patients the wrong drug and not noting a documented allergy.

Some adverse drug reactions to hydromorphone also may be preventable. The study found that of the 447 reported ADRs involving central nervous system or respiratory effects, 292 (65%) were preventable, and, of these, 205 (70%) resulted from dosing errors.

To reduce the number of medical errors and ADRs involving hydromorphone, the study recommended implementing risk reduction strategies such as constraints and standardization, which focus on system improvement. It also recommended writing hydromorphone with the first five letters capitalized (i.e. HYDROmorphone) to further distinguish it from morphine.

Source: Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority
You can view the report here.

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