YONKERS, N.Y. — Important safety information often is missing from drug labels, while some pharmacies don’t include medication guides required by the federal government, according to a new investigation by Consumer Reports.
Consumer Reports Health sent members of its staff on an investigative “spot check” to Costco, CVS, Target, Walgreens and Walmart stores in Yonkers, N.Y., to fill prescriptions for the common blood-thinning drug warfarin. While cautioning that their findings were not representative of the retailers at the national level, the staffers found that four of the pharmacies didn’t provide medication guides. The patient materials they did provide were different from the ones approved by the Food and Drug Administration and also contained conflicting warnings about using alcohol with the drug; while the FDA recommends that patients not drink at all while using warfarin, medication guides from Costco and CVS advised patients to “limit or avoid” alcohol.
The number of warnings on the bottles differed as well. The prescriptions filled at Target and Walgreens each had four warnings printed directly on the labels, while CVS had three and Costco had two warning stickers. At first, Walmart didn’t have any warnings, but prescriptions picked up on a second trip to the store and during a visit to another store each included three warning stickers.
Consumer Reports Health prescription drug editor Lisa Gill blamed a lack of unified, national standards for the problem. For example, while foods and over-the-counter drugs must carry “Nutrition Facts” and “Drug Facts” labels that are uniform throughout the country, there is no equivalent for prescription drugs. In addition, state boards of pharmacy are in charge of monitoring the content of drug labels, and it’s up to the pharmacist to decide whether the bottles should include warnings.
“It’s my opinion that the inconsistencies and omissions on drug labels really cry out for uniformity and federal oversight,” Consumer Reports Health chief medical adviser Marvin Lipman said. “FDA regulation can solve this.”
But Target’s bottle design did receive some praise in the report; Consumer Reports pointed out that the mass-merchandise chain’s triangular containers provide enough space for detailed instructions and multiple warnings, while drug information is included in large type.