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7/26/2002
Press Release

ASHP Urges FDA to Require Bar Codes on All Drug Packages

The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) today urged the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to move quickly in requiring bar codes on all medication packages, a mandate that would significantly improve patient safety in the nation’s hospitals and health systems.

In today’s public meeting on a proposed regulation to mandate bar codes, ASHP stressed the need for immediate action. "Bar coding technology is entrenched throughout America in all types of venues—grocery stores, department stores, libraries. It is something that everyone expects, and it is found everywhere…except where it can do the greatest good—saving lives," said Kasey Thompson, Pharm.D., director of the ASHP Center on Patient Safety.

This is not the first time that the Society has weighed in on this critical public health issue. In a letter sent to the Secretary of Health and Human Services in July 2001, ASHP urged the FDA to require bar code labels on all drug packages. The FDA announced in December of that year that it would publish a proposed rule on the subject by April 2002. The proposed rule is now expected to be delayed until November.

"Time is slipping by, and this action is long overdue," said Thompson. "The FDA is well aware of the overwhelming support for this important step for patient safety." In its 1999 report, "To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health Care System," the Institute of Medicine noted that bar coding "is an effective remedy" for medication errors when used to ensure the right dose is administered to the right patient. ASHP's House of Delegates adopted policy supporting a bar coding requirement in June 2001.

In its comments, ASHP called for bar codes to be placed on both the inner and outer wrap of all drug packages, including single-unit doses. "Bar codes can be the last line of defense against making a dangerous medication error," Thompson added. "This technology can help hospitals ensure that the right medication is given to the right patient at the right time."

ASHP is the 30,000-member national professional association that represents pharmacists who practice in hospitals, health maintenance organizations, long-term care facilities, home care, and other components of health care systems. ASHP, which has a long history of medication-error prevention efforts, believes that the mission of pharmacists is to help people make the best use of medicines. Assisting pharmacists in fulfilling this mission is ASHP's primary objective. The Society has extensive publishing and educational programs designed to help members improve their professional practice, and it is the national accrediting organization for pharmacy residency and pharmacy technician training programs. For more information, visit www.ashp.org or www.safemedication.com.