Kerry Kennedy and Ambien: A Common Med Mix (Up), Say Experts

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Drug Mix-Ups Are Common

Kennedy's statement that she may have mistakenly taken Ambien instead of her thyroid medicine is not far-fetched, according to experts.

New York City mother and writer Nancy Kruger Cohen wrote about the same mix-up in an article, "Mothers Little Helper," for the New York Times magazine in 2010. She said she begins each day with her gray thyroid tablet, but one day, while getting her two children ready for school, she grabbed the wrong prescription bottle.

"As the pill goes in, my tongue pauses -- Is it usually pink? -- but I swallow anyway. And then the mistake is clear," Cohen writes. "I have taken a sleeping pill at 8:15 a.m."

She describes a day of bedlam, one in which she texts her girlfriends, throws up over tea, crashes in bed and eventually spends the evening playing with her children, uncharacteristically oblivious to the mess and confusion. Her memory of the day is, of course, spotty.

Since 2000, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has received more than 95,000 reports of medication errors -- some of them doctor or pharmacy mistakes, but many by consumers themselves.

"Chaos at home is a common denominator in a lot of accidental poisonings," Marcel J. Casavant, a toxicologist and medical director of the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, told ABCNews.com at the time.

"Kids may be playing, mom is fixing dinner, dad is getting in from work and grabbing mail or whatever dads do," he said. "But there's a lot going on, and someone decides it's time to administer medication."

At least half of all Americans take at least one prescription drug, with one in six taking three or more medications. The biggest increases in prescriptions were for antidepressants, nonsteriodal anti-inflammatory drugs, and blood sugar and cholesterol lowering drugs, according to a 2004 Department of Health and Human Services report.

Casavant said his poison control center, one of three in Ohio, fields at least 100 calls a day, "a couple of dozen" of which are unintentional medication mix-ups. "We have a lot more chemicals and a lot more medicine these days."

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