pillsIt goes without saying that there's never a good time to have a pharmacy screw up your medication. But a pregnant woman just became the victim of a colossal error. She went into her Colorado pharmacy for an antibiotic and ended up with an abortion drug instead.

Did you just cringe a little? OK, a lot? The story of Mareena Silva has been haunting me since I read about the Colorado mom-to-be who unwittingly took a medicine that could spell the end to her dream of being a mom. Taking medicine -- any medicine -- when you're pregnant is scary enough. Now we have to add this fear?

Methotrexate, the drug accidentally prescribed to Silva, can be used to end pregnancies. But by and large it's used for cancer patients. It's like a bazillion other drugs -- ever listen to the TV ads where they say "consult your doctor if you are pregnant or breastfeeding"? -- not recommended for pregnant women but entirely useful for women who aren't pregnant. So let's throw the abortion issue out here.

This isn't about abortion drugs. It's about pharmacies and the need to be that much more careful than your average business to get things right. Because pharmacists are the front lines of health care. A doctor writes a prescription, but a pharmacist actually puts a drug in a patient's hands.

And like Mareena Silva, most of us just open the bottle and chuck it back. We have no way of knowing whether that little pill in there is the right one for us. How would we? We're good at what we do in our jobs. We expect a pharmacist to be good at what he or she does.

But it's hard not to feel a little bit of extra sympathy for Silva. Because she's pregnant! And I remember being extra dubious about taking in anything extra when I was pregnant. But I took antibiotics too. I had a sinus infection, and with all those swollen membranes (hello pregnancy!), I was a miserable wreck. Finally my OB/GYN convinced me I wasn't doing anyone any favors -- least of all my fetus. So I bit the bullet, hating myself the whole time.

The fact is, most medicines and their effect on pregnant women remain largely untested. Because what pregnant woman in her right mind is going to sign herself up for a clinical trial? No one wants to make their fetus into the guinea pig -- and rightfully so. But that leaves pregnant women wary of medicines that could (or could not) be good for their bodies in the long run.

Now add this fear -- that the pharmacist will screw up royally -- and you could be sitting like Silva wondering whether you'll have a healthy normal baby (still a possibility), whether you'll have a miscarriage (again, a possibility for her), or someone's mistake will cause severe fetal defects.

Do you worry about taking doctor-approved medicines while pregnant?

 

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