Many pharmacies fail to properly label prescription drugs with key safety warnings or include the medication guides that the federal government requires, according to a new investigative report from Consumer Reports Health.
Staffers at Consumer Reports went to five retail pharmacies--Costco, CVS, Target, Walgreens, and Wal-Mart--in Yonkers, N.Y., to fill prescriptions for warfarin, a blood thinner used to prevent strokes. The drug is commonly prescribed, but if not taken properly, it can cause internal bleeding and other dangerous side effects.
Despite the potential danger, Consumer Reports found inconsistent labeling, medication guides with print so small that it was difficult to read, and a lack of information.
“We are shocked by what we unearthed,” Dr. Marvin Lipman, the chief medical adviser for Consumer Reports Health, said in a statement. “We found that critical warnings were absent from some drug labels and information sheets were confusing, loaded with medical jargon, and sometimes unreadable due to tiny print. It’s very worrisome to think of consumers taking dangerous drugs without adequate warnings.”
The Target pharmacy's prescription drugs carried four large warnings. Those sold at Walgreens also had four warning stickers, while CVS's had three, Costco's had two, and Wal-Mart's had none--although on two subsequent visits Wal-Mart displayed three warnings on each bottle. Consumer Reports attributes the variation to the lack of a national standard for labeling drugs, such as the “nutritional facts” label on food packages.
Researchers also found that the information packets that are stapled to or placed in the bags containing the drugs had confusing information about proper usage. They found that only Costco's pharmacy provided a Food and Drug Administration-approved medication guide required for drugs such as warfarin.
When Consumer Reportscontacted the companies, Target and CVS representatives said that their pharmacies automatically print medication guides. Wal-Mart and Walgreens did not respond.