Millions of people rely on prescription drugs. About eight in 10 Americans, when asked as part of a survey, reported taking medication in the week prior. And an estimated one-third of adults in the U.S. are on at least five medications.

Customers almost universally rely on a pharmacy to obtain these prescription drugs. A new report, however, shines some light on an incredibly worrying trend: chaos at the pharmacy.

Overworked and understaffed

According to a report from the New York Times, pharmacists with some of the nation’s largest companies have become overwhelmingly concerned about chaos at the workplace.

Staffing levels have shrunk, and those who do remain are seeing their workload increase. They are often asked to fill prescriptions while juggling other duties – answering phones, giving flu shots, talking to patients, communicating with doctors and insurers, and more.

In addition, pharmacists are being pressured to hit performance figures that are potentially unreasonable. The situation has become so tumultuous, pharmacists across the country have sent letters to regulators expressing concern.

This chaos, they say, is putting regular people in harm’s way.

Patients can suffer because of a pharmacy’s mistake

What this all leads to is dangerous mistakes. A tired, distracted pharmacist might give a patient far too much of a certain drug, for example, putting them at risk. Or the patient might receive the wrong medication, one that causes pain, health complications or even death. One woman, for example, was supposed to get an antidepressant – instead, the pharmacy gave her a chemotherapy drug.

Some pharmacists recognize the risks. The New York Times compiled some of their troubling accounts. Here are a few excerpts:

  • “We are being asked to do things that we know at a gut level are dangerous.”
  • “The mistakes I have seen occur in this environment are both frightening and understandable when we are under the gun to perform the impossible.
  • “I am a danger to the public working for [this company].”
  • Company practices “are preventing us from taking care of our patients and putting them at risk of dangerous medication errors.”

Medication error is considered one of the leading causes of avoidable harm in the healthcare industry. Yet this report suggests the risk of danger coming from pharmacies is increasing, not improving. A mistake like this can cost a victim far more than money – it can change their life forever.