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California state lawmakers approved a bill Thursday that would require pharmacies to report every prescription error — a move aimed at lowering the estimated 5 million mistakes pharmacists make each year.

The bill — AB 1286 — still must be signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has not indicated whether he supports it. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Times detailed earlier this month how Californians have been harmed by the errors made by pharmacists, most of them happening in chain pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens. Pharmacists in those stores often fill hundreds of prescriptions during a shift, while also providing vaccinations, calling doctors to confirm prescriptions and working the cash register.

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In a survey of California licensed pharmacists in 2021, 91% of those working at chain pharmacies said staffing wasn’t high enough to provide patients adequate care.

The bill, authored by Assemblymember Matt Haney, a San Francisco Democrat, would also require pharmacies to have a technician or clerk to assist the pharmacist during much of the day.

It was opposed by the California Community Pharmacy Coalition, a lobbying group representing retail pharmacies, including the big chains.

The chain pharmacies have said that the errors are rare and that they have measures in place to keep patients safe.

The state’s Board of Pharmacy sponsored the bill. The board, which regulates pharmacies, said it does not know whether the number of prescription errors has been increasing or decreasing because pharmacies are not required to report them.

The Times found the errors have included cases in which pharmacists gave customers the wrong drug, a dosage that was too high or low, or dangerously incorrect instructions for taking the medication.

Some mistakes have been serious. As many as 9,000 Americans die each year from prescription errors, according to one study.

Under the bill, the error reports would not be made public. Instead the pharmacies would send them to a third party, which would provide de-identified information to the pharmacy board.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Western States Council, which was among the groups that supported the bill, praised its approval by legislators on Thursday.

“We’ve seen our member pharmacy staff become increasingly overwhelmed with their workload over the past couple of years and it’s time that California ensures our community pharmacies lessen the factors that can cause medication errors,” said Todd Walters, president of UFCW Local 135.


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