Medical science is capable of amazing things. New drugs can treat a wide array of symptoms and diseases, bringing relief to millions of people every year. But in order to obtain the benefit of a given drug, you have to receive the drug prescribed.

Unfortunately, there are a large number of drugs that either look alike or have similar-sounding names. Getting the wrong drug can have catastrophic consequences – the incorrect medication could interact with other medications, or be contraindicated in a particular patient due to other health conditions. Our firm is currently reviewing a potential case in which a very sick patient was supposed to receive Synercid, an antibiotic used to treat serious bacterial infections, but was instead given Synthroid, a common thyroid medication. As a result, the patient received a drug she did not need, and was deprived of the treatment she should have had.

Another common error involves drugs that look alike. For example, 800 milligram ibuprofen tablets are large, white, oblong pills. Ibuprofen is commonly prescribed for muscle aches and pains. However, certain Vicodin tablets are almost identical in appearance. If a pharmacist were to place the wrong pill in your bottle, would you be able to tell the difference?

How can you avoid these dangers? As with most aspects of your health care, it is important that you be an advocate for your own interests. Be sure to ask your doctor and pharmacist plenty of questions about any medication he or she prescribes you, including generic names for the drug. In addition, there are several online resources that can help you identify a pill.

It may not seem like it, but a few transposed letters can be the difference between life and death. Be extremely cautious when you get prescriptions filled – the wrong medication could easily do more harm than good.