"So many times, you think you solve the problem and make the dangerous ones red or a star on a skull and cross bones," he said. "We think we are helping, but you should have to put your glasses on and read every label."
Forgetting a dose and taking a second one can also cause problems, especially with new blood pressure medicines that contain a day's worth of drugs.
"Our poison center had a gentleman call recently," Casavant said. "After taking his morning medicines he took a brief nap. On waking again, he took his morning medicines. He got not just a whole day's worth of extra blood pressure medicine, but extra doses of several other medicines as well."
The man was hospitalized with low blood pressure that could have caused serious heart problems or in a healthy child, death.
"It turned out fine, but it could have been worse," he said. "Imagine if he tried to drive to work with low blood pressure, or if the lady writing for The New York Times fell asleep driving the kids to school? Yikes!"
As for Cohen, she walked her children to school the day she accidentally took Ambien, then slept off most of the drug. What could have been a medical tragedy, turned out to have transcendental side effects.
"The pill has made me calmer, and so the girls are more easygoing," she writes. "We're on the floor creating a garden of wax, with orange tulips in magenta pots, a turquoise pond with purple frogs, a footbridge over daffodils. We leave a pavilion of red orchids until tomorrow and get into bed to read 'Sylvester and the Magic Pebble,' then wonder what it feels like to be a rock in the middle of a field. My cheek focuses on the feeling of small lips as the light goes out."
"I've been so afraid that being a mother is causing my brain to dissolve," she said. "but this morning it knew I needed to be put to sleep in order to wake up."
Advice for Consumers:
Take the time to ask questions of your doctor and pharmacists.
Check labeling and instructions three times. Read in good light, with glasses, if needed.
Don't rush when taking medicine.
Keep medications in their labeled containers and make sure they are child-proof. If you have teens in the house, lock the medicine cabinet.
Keep drugs out of steamy bathroom where they can degrade, becoming inactive or even toxic.
If you forget to take your medication, call your doctor or pharmacist.
If you have mistakenly taken a double dose or the wrong medicine, call the poison control center at 800-222-1222.
Report errors to the FDA's MedWatch site to help identify trends in drug mix-ups.