Maryland, along with every other state in the U.S., paused the use of Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine last week after six recipients of the vaccine in the country experienced a rare blood-clotting disorder. Over seven million people have received Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine in the United States so far. The six people who experienced the clotting disorder were women between 18 and 48 and experienced the disorder within three weeks of receiving the vaccine. In those cases, the blood clots occurred in the brain, and the women all showed low levels of platelets. One woman died from the illness. In a step to reduce Maryland vaccine errors and adverse reactions, Maryland’s Department of Health decided to pause the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the state “out of an abundance of caution.”

The AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been distributed in Europe, also had cases of individuals with blood clotting, which were “very, very similar” to the Johnson & Johnson clotting cases, one expert noted. Both vaccines use similar technology. A government committee will meet to evaluate further use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control said that individuals who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the past month should reach out to their doctors if they have abdominal pain, shortness of breath, leg pain, or severe headaches. Health officials reported that the people who experienced the clotting disorder most commonly had a persistent, moderate to severe headache that started six days or later after receiving the shot.

Individuals who experience vaccine errors or adverse reactions may be able to recover compensation from the administrator or manufacturer of the vaccine in some cases. A Maryland vaccine error claim based on negligence requires a showing that the defendant owed the individual a duty, the defendant failed to meet the relevant standard of care, the defendant’s negligent conduct caused the individual’s injuries, and the individual suffered damages. These cases can be complicated and often must rely on the testimony of experts to explain the link between the error and the injuries the individual suffered. Victims of a vaccine or medication error may be able to receive financial compensation for past and future medical expenses, loss of wages and earning capacity, and other damages depending on their circumstances. A negligence claim in Maryland has to be filed within three years after the date of the injury.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Maryland residents may have found themselves relying more and more on pharmacists and local pharmacies, particularly as social distancing measures have limited the opportunities to speak with pharmacy staff and ask questions about prescriptions. Although many Maryland patients have been able to get the medication they need from pharmacies, it is important to remember that Maryland pharmacy errors are still happening. Pharmacy errors—which are not unique to Maryland but happen all across the country—can have significant negative consequences, especially during the current public health crisis.

Recently, a pharmacy error made headlines when a pharmacist’s methadone dosage error landed his client in the emergency room. According to a news article covering the incident, the client, a man in his 60s, was at the pharmacy waiting in line to receive his dosage of methadone under an Opioid Substitution Treatment program. The pharmacist identified the client he thought would be the next to receive a dose and turned away to measure the correct dose for that client. But that initial client left the room and the other client stepped forward and was waiting when the pharmacist returned to the counter with the measured dose.

The pharmacist did not follow protocol and say the client’s name when handing them the dose, and instead handed the incorrect dose to the client, who took it. The dosage the client took was 75mg, almost seven times higher than his usual dose of 11 mg. Afterward, before the client left, the pharmacist realized his mistake, but still allowed the client to drive himself home. Later on, the client received a call from a nurse, who had been informed of the error, telling him he needed to seek emergency medical attention immediately due to the risks posed by the increased dose. He was kept at the hospital for a bit but fortunately suffered no long-term complications.

Maryland pharmacy errors can range in their severity. Some may be harmless—a mistake is made when filling a prescription, but it does not really make a difference to or harm the patient. For example, the wrong version of a drug might be given, but the two drugs are substitutable. Or the instructions are messed up, telling the patient to take the drug every morning instead of at night, but it does not really matter so long as it’s only taken once a day. In these cases, individuals may not even know that there has been a mistake. But sometimes, pharmacy errors can be far more serious. Individuals given the wrong drug, the wrong dosage, or the wrong instructions, for example, may face significant bodily harm, or severe illnesses. In some cases, the mistakes may even be fatal.

For example, take a recent tragedy where a pharmacy error allegedly caused the death of an 82-year-old woman. According to an article covering the incident, the woman died on New Year’s Eve 2020, just hours before the world rang in 2021, after being wrongly sent antidepressants instead of her regular prescription for weeks. The woman’s caretaker found her semiconscious after one of his breaks and discovered that the drug she was supposed to be taking—the water retention drug furosemide—had actually been the antidepressant fluoxetine. The pharmacist had mixed up the drugs, which both started with the letter F. While researching the drug she had been taking—fluoxetine—it was discovered that internal bleeding was a potential side effect. And tragically, the patient died from an upper gastrointestinal hemorrhage, thought to have been caused by the pharmacy error.

The family is, understandably, heartbroken. The woman’s son, speaking to a reporter, says that the family feels “very let down because you put your faith and trust in pharmacies and the medication that they deliver.” To have that medication inadvertently kill your loved one is an unimaginable tragedy. While the family did receive a letter from the pharmacy saying that they made a mistake, that letter does not do anything to bring back their loved one. Unfortunately, nothing can. However, the family stated publicly that they are looking into bringing legal action against the pharmacy. While it cannot fix the awful situation completely, many families choose to file wrongful death lawsuits in situations like this one to recover financially for their loss. The monetary damages awarded in these lawsuits can ensure the family does not have to worry about finances while mourning their loved ones, and can cover medical bills, funeral and burial costs, and more.

It is no surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a major toll on the United States’ health care system. All areas of the system—from hospitals to local clinics and even pharmacies—are struggling, as staff are overworked, underresourced, and overly stressed one year into the pandemic. Of particular concern to Maryland residents are the potential impacts on pharmacists and pharmacy errors. When pharmacists are struggling, they are more likely to make careless errors and cause significant harm to patients, who may not realize the mistake until it’s too late. And, according to a recent NBC News article, pharmacists across the country are voicing concerns about the current state of their work, and what it might mean for patient safety. The most important part? These concerns started before COVID-19, and are likely to continue even once the virus is behind us as well.

According to the NBC News article, the past decade has led to an increase in work for pharmacists across the country, but fewer staff members to complete it. An estimated 155,000 pharmacists working at chain drugstores over the last decade have found themselves pushed to do more—work faster, fill more orders, and juggle a wider range of tasks—with fewer and fewer staff members. The pace expected from them is not only unmanageable but dangerous, as patient safety may suffer from pharmacists too exhausted or distracted to follow all safety protocols. NBC News spoke specifically to 31 pharmacists and pharmacy technicians in 15 states, who reported on 12-hour shifts so busy they didn’t have time to go to the bathroom and on rushing to complete their job but making mistakes along the way. The pandemic has made things even worse, as pharmacists now have additional duties with COVID-19 testing, deep cleaning constantly, and vaccinating patients.

Pharmacy errors can range from small, like miscounting the numbers of pills in a bottle, to potentially deadly, such as combining drugs with dangerous interactions or administering the wrong medication at too high a dosage. Maryland residents should be on the lookout for these errors to avoid any potentially harmful consequences. Specifically, those picking up prescriptions should always make sure that the medicine is the correct one, that the dosage matches the labeling in the instructions, and that they understand when and how to take the drug. But, if an accident does occur, patients should not presume it was their fault for not checking thoroughly enough or catching it themselves. Maryland state law allows patients to hold negligent pharmacies responsible for the harm they’ve caused, and patients can recover significant monetary damages through a Maryland pharmacy error lawsuit.

Maryland pharmacy errors can lead to severe consequences for patients. Because prescription medications are often vital to a patient’s health and well being, pharmacy safety must be taken very seriously. When a pharmacy error occurs, patients may get sick or become injured, either because they took the wrong medication that was bad for them or because they did not take the correct medication that they actually needed. In some tragic cases, the error may even lead to death—highlighting the need for pharmacists and pharmacies to follow all safety protocols when filling prescriptions.

For example, a recent transcription error by a pharmacy technician taking medication orders over the phone led to a female patient’s death and a personal injury lawsuit seeking significant monetary damages. According to a report of the case by Pharmacy Times, a female patient was hospitalized for fluid buildup in her lungs. When it came time for her to be discharged, a nurse at the hospital called in her prescriptions at a local pharmacy. The call was being taken by a pharmacy technician, who made numerous transcription errors, misspelling the names of several medications and the name of the nurse, and recording an incorrect birth date for the patient. In addition, they made an error related to the dosage of the inhaler being prescribed (recording a dosage 10 times the correct amount).

Most significantly, the technician mis-recorded the daily dosage of methotrexate instead of the metolazone that was intended. The pharmacist on duty at the time approved the prescription, not realizing the error. But at trial, he testified that the dosage being prescribed would be safe for a patient once or twice per week, not on a daily basis. When the patient’s husband picked up the medication, he was provided no further counseling even though guidance and experts recommend counseling should be provided with new drugs, particularly high-alert ones like methotrexate. The patient, unfortunately, died as a result of the pharmacy error.

Most Maryland residents find themselves visiting a pharmacy at one point or another. Medications—whether continual or short-term—are a big part of many people’s health and well-being. And ideally, pharmacists and pharmacies help to keep Maryland patients safe and healthy. But sometimes mistakes are made, and these pharmacy errors can cause significant harm to patients. In fact, Maryland pharmacy errors are more common than most people think and can happen to anyone. Recently, however, the Pharmacy Times published an online article about how specialty pharmacists play an important role in increasing patient safety.

Specialty pharmacies, according to the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy, are distinct from traditional pharmacies and are designed to efficiently deliver medications that have special handling, storage, and distribution requirements. They are also designed to improve outcomes for patients that have complex, potentially chronic and rare conditions. Typically, patients taking specialty medications require more complex services than those required for a traditional drug, and so specialty pharmacists step in to meet those needs.

According to the Pharmacy Times, specialty pharmacists have a unique role in medication safety. Not only do they take responsibility for ensuring the safe and effective use of specialty medications, but they also play a strong role in promoting a positive safety culture within their specific pharmacy. One of the factors pointed towards as causing pharmacy errors is the culture within the pharmacy. Oftentimes, pharmacists are overworked, hurried, and stressed out, and they may sacrifice safety for speed or fail to engage in regular safety precautions. The Pharmacy Times reports that because specialty pharmacists, working with high-risk specialty medications, often incorporate robust programs to ensure proper medication usage and minimize the potential for error, can be really helpful in setting the tone and expectation for safety in typical pharmacy settings. Additionally, specialty pharmacists can encourage the actual reporting of errors within pharmacies when they do happen, which is critical for addressing the root cause of the problem and making sure the same errors do not continue to happen.

Medication errors occur all too frequently in the United States. They account for thousands of deaths each year throughout the country. They may be the result of negligent acts, such as failing to follow proper procedures, failing to communicate necessary information, and failing to verify the patient’s information, including any allergies. In a Maryland medication error case alleging negligence, a medication error victim must prove that the defendant owed the victim a duty by exercising a certain degree of care toward the victim, the defendant failed to meet the requisite standard of care, the victim suffered injuries, and the defendant’s conduct caused the victim’s injuries.

Medication errors can involve the improper administration of a vaccine. According to an analysis conducted by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices of reported vaccine errors in 2017, the majority of errors involved administration of the wrong vaccine. Other errors included expired vaccines, the wrong dose, the wrong age, the wrong timing, the wrong patient, the wrong route, and a component/vaccine omission. In some cases, a vaccine error may simply negate the effect of the vaccine, but other errors may cause injury and even death.

Victims of vaccine errors or other medication errors may be able to recover compensation for their injuries by filing a Maryland negligence claim. Victims often need an expert to testify to prove their case by establishing a link between the medical error and the victim’s injuries. Experts may also be able to testify concerning whether an error was made and who was at fault. Generally, a Maryland negligence claim must be filed within three years of the date of the victim’s injury. Plaintiffs in medication error cases may be entitled to recover financial compensation for medical bills, physical therapy, future medical expenses, loss of earning capacity, lost wages, and other damages.

Each year, medicine and technology get more and more advanced, leading to improvements in the quality and delivery of health care across the country. Despite these improvements, however, errors still occur in health care delivery, particularly regarding pharmacy and medication. In fact, Maryland pharmacy errors occur frequently, jeopardizing the health and well-being of patients. The Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) is a nonprofit organization that works closely with health care practitioners, institutions, regulatory agencies, professional organizations, and the pharmaceutical industry to create awareness of and provide education about medication errors and how to prevent them.

Every other week, ISMP produces a newsletter with timely information related to pharmacy error prevention. Looking at the newsletters from January 2020 through December 2020 provides important insight into the trends seen in pharmacy errors last year. Pharmacy Practice News recently provided a summary of these newsletters on their website.

In the Pharmacy Practice News summary, several key problem areas were identified. One was safety issues related to labeling, packaging, and nomenclature. For example, a pharmacist might mix-up two different medications that have similar labeling or names, giving the wrong one to the patient. Another area of concern was safety issues associated with order communication and documentation. For example, health officials searching for drugs by generic names and accidentally substituting non-substitutable drugs. Finally, there are problems involving drug information, patient information, patient education, and staff education. For example, two patients mixed up their insulin pens which looked alike but with different labels and manufacturers, meaning they gave themselves the wrong insulin, leading to hyperglycemia.

Victims of Maryland medication errors may be dealing with the stress of the injury, medical bills, and wage losses—and filing a Maryland medication error lawsuit may not be at the forefront of their minds. However, victims have to be careful not to wait too long, because it could be too late.

The statute of limitations dictates the time in which any claim must be filed in Maryland. Failure to file a lawsuit within the applicable statute of limitations generally will result in the claim being dismissed, though there are some exceptions. Generally, the statute of limitations for a medication error claim in Maryland (and other personal injury claims) is three years. Wrongful death claims also have a statute of limitations of three years. The statute of limitations varies depending on the type of case and there may be exceptions in some cases. The statutes of limitations also can change if there is a change in the law so it is important to meet with an experienced medication error attorney who understands the statute of limitations that applies in a specific case.

The statute of limitations generally begins to run when an injury occurs, though it may start to run later in some cases. An experienced medication error attorney can help medication error victims properly file a claim within the applicable statute of limitations.

While the COVID-19 pandemic was understandably the most reported and challenging topic in medicine and healthcare during 2020 (and maybe for 2021, as well), it is important to remember that Maryland pharmacy errors—both COVID-19 related and not—have continued to occur with alarming rates.

Pharmacy errors occur when some mistake is made between the time a prescription is written and the time a patient takes the medication. These errors can come in many different forms. For example, the pharmacist may provide a patient with the wrong medicine or the incorrect dose.

Now that 2020 has come to an end, reflection on the mistakes of the past year is possible. The Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) recently released a list of the Top 10 medication errors and hazards that occurred in 2020. Factors influencing the list include frequency of problems, the significance of the consequences to patients, and the potential for the errors to be avoided or minimized. ISMP recommends that these ten errors be top priorities in the new year.

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