It is estimated that Maryland medication errors are responsible for up to a third of all preventable deaths in the state. Thus, encouraging safer prescription practices is a paramount concern among lawmakers. According to a recent news report, there is currently ongoing debate on whether imposing criminal sanctions against medical professionals who were found to be negligent would decrease the total number of errors.

Earlier this year, we covered a tragic case involving the death of a hospital patient after he was administered the wrong medication by an attending nurse. The nurse is alleged to have disregarded hospital protocol and overlooked several errors, ultimately resulting in the patient’s death. Although the state health department decided not to revoke the nurse’s license, the local prosecuting authority recently filed reckless homicide charges against her, claiming that her conduct was criminal. If convicted, the nurse could face years in prison.

The local prosecuting authority’s decision to pursue criminal charges against the nurse has triggered a discussion regarding the possible effects that imposing criminal liability against negligent nurses or pharmacists could have on Maryland pharmacy error rates. On the one hand, patient advocates argue that more accountability would increase the amount of care that nurses and pharmacists would provide to each patient. Because the leading cause of pharmacy errors is distraction or inattention, in theory, this would decrease the number of pharmacy errors.

As pharmacies have become busier and busier over the past few decades, many suburban pharmacies have begun to offer drive-up service. For many busy patients, drive-up windows are a convenient way to drop off or pick up prescriptions, voiding the need to park and get out of the car. However, conducting such important business through a drive-up window may increase the risks of a Maryland pharmacy error.

A recent case illustrates a common pharmacy error that occurred through a drive-up window. According to an industry news source that analyzed the court’s opinion, a woman intended on picking up two prescriptions for her husband through the defendant pharmacy’s drive-up window. The woman’s husband had Alzheimer’s Disease and high blood pressure. Rather than providing the woman with her husband’s prescribed medication, the pharmacist at the drive-up window gave her alprazolam and sertraline. Both drugs were intended for a patient with the same last name as the woman’s husband.

The woman took the medication home and administered it to her husband. Within a few hours, she woke up to her husband calling her name. She found him lying on the floor, and he could not get up. There were no tripping hazards nearby. It was later determined that he sustained a broken hip in the fall.

Pharmacists and nurses have a very important job that must be taken seriously at all times. However, medical professionals are human, and it is not uncommon for a nurse or pharmacist who is comfortable doing their job to begin to engage in multi-tasking. While the ability to multi-task is seen as a good thing in some contexts, when the safety of a patient is on the line, pharmacists should keep the focus of their attention only on the task at hand. As studies have repeatedly shown, a Maryland pharmacist who multi-tasks while filling a patient’s prescription increases the risk of a Maryland pharmacy error.

Back in 2017, a woman died after she was given a lethal dose of the paralyzing agent vecuronium instead of Versed, which the doctors intended to provide her with. According to a recent news report, prosecutors released additional documentation in the 2017 case showing that the nurse made at least ten errors in the moments leading up to the time when she gave the patient the lethal dose.

Evidently, a nurse administered the lethal dose of vecuronium to the patient, who stopped breathing a short time after the medication entered her bloodstream. At the time, the nurse admitted to being involved in an unrelated conversation with a colleague when she reached for the medicine. The nurse grabbed the wrong medication and apparently failed to notice the boldface type on the packaging stating WARNING: PARALYZING AGENT.

Over the past few decades, the demand placed on Maryland pharmacies has skyrocketed. The workload of the average pharmacist has correspondingly increased. In an attempt to keep the system working efficiently, pharmacies have begun to rely more and more on technology to help with filling prescriptions. This includes checking for prescribing errors and potential adverse reactions.

One of the most notable advancements is the widespread use of electronic prescribing and medication administration. The concept behind electronic prescribing and medication administration is that doctors and pharmacists can electronically input a patient’s prescription rather than rely on a “paper trail,” as used to be the case.

As a recent article points out, however, there may be unintended consequences of the widespread use of electronic prescribing and medication administration. The study reviewed the pharmacy staff’s daily behaviors before and after the implementation of an electronic prescribing and medication administration system. According to researchers, the new system may be linked to an increase in medication errors — the study based this conclusion on several data points.

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Each time a patient is prescribed prescription medication, a physician has determined that the medicine is medically necessary for the plaintiff’s health. However, when a doctor prescribes a prescription, the doctor assumes that the medication that will ultimately be provided to the patient is exactly what they specified.

In the case of a Maryland pharmacy error, or a situation in which a medication is recalled, the medicine that a patient is provided is not what their doctor intended. As a result, there can be serious and potentially life-threatening consequences. If a patient is not given the medication that they were prescribed, the existing condition that necessitated the prescription will not be treated. This often leads to the worsening of symptoms.

Compounding the potential for injury is the fact that whatever medication the patient is provided may have been adulterated, contaminated, or contain other substances that can cause the patient injury or harm. Such a reaction may be due to an allergy, an adverse drug interaction, or an inadvertent overdose if too high a dose is provided.

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The last thing many patients think to do when picking up a prescription from their local pharmacy is to check the pharmacist’s work. However, given the startling rate of Maryland pharmacy errors, this critically important step should not be overlooked. Did the prescription provided by the pharmacist contain the correct medication? Was the dosage correct? Was the correct number of pills included in the prescription? These are just a few of the questions that patients must ask themselves when picking up a prescription for themselves or a loved one.

Of course, the burden to ensure that a prescription is accurate should not rest with the patient. And legally it does not; pharmacists have an obligation to fill all prescriptions accurately. However, because the repercussions of a pharmacy error can be so devastating, patients should do everything they can to avoid being the victim of a Maryland pharmacy error.

As mentioned above, pharmacists are medical professionals and – like doctors – they have a duty to their patients. This includes the responsibility to accurately fill all prescriptions, regardless of how long it takes. However, the realities of working in a busy pharmacy too often outweigh these practical concerns and pharmacists may fail to double-check their work for fear of getting too far behind. Not surprisingly, this drastically increases the risk of an error.

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Pharmacists are medical professionals and – although it is not always evident to patients – a significant amount of work goes into filling each prescription. Aside from making sure that the correct drug, dose, and amount of medication is provided to a patient, pharmacists are also responsible for ensuring the quality of the medicine being provided to patients, and for making sure that prescribed medication is suitable for the patient.

The vast majority of the time, pharmacists deal with controlled substances that have not just the power to help a patient, but also the potential for danger. Some of these drugs may have serious side effects or exact dosing requirements, and many of the drugs handled by pharmacists can be habit-forming or addictive.

A recent article discussed the lack of safeguards in one hospital pharmacy that allowed a physician to overprescribe painkillers in fatal or near-fatal doses to 34 patients. Typically, the hospital required a pharmacist to approve a prescription electronically before a doctor or nurse can access the medication cabinet and obtain the drug to give to the patient. In the event of an emergency, access to the medicine cabinet was allowed through a physician override. Evidently, physicians were able to access all types of dangerous medications, including fentanyl and Versed, without having to justify the circumstances of the emergency.

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Under Maryland law, most cases must be brought within three years from when the claim “accrues.” However, when someone ingests a dangerous medication, the potential harms of the drug may not be immediately apparent. This is true in both pharmacy errors, where a pharmacist provides a patient with the wrong medication, and also in cases involving dangerous prescription drugs that are marketed as safe. This raises the question, when to these Maryland pharmacy error cases accrue?

Maryland courts employ the “discovery of harm” method when determining when a claim begins to accrue. Thus, it is only when a plaintiff becomes aware of their injuries that the clock starts ticking. A recent federal appellate decision involving a dangerous prescription drug illustrates how courts engage in this type of analysis.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s recitation of the facts, in 1999, the plaintiff was prescribed Vioxx by her physician to relieve pain and inflammation. The following year, the plaintiff suffered “cardiovascular injuries” while taking the medication. However, the plaintiff’s doctor continued to prescribe Vioxx, and the plaintiff continued to take the medication. In 2002, the plaintiff discontinued the use of Vioxx.

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Any time a pharmacist provides a patient with the wrong medication, there is the possibility that there will be serious, potentially life-threatening consequences. However, when the victim of a Maryland pharmacy error is a young child, the risk that the error will result in serious injury or death significantly increases. And while parents should check all labels and all accompanying literature to ensure that an error has not occurred, the duty ultimately rests with the pharmacist to accurately fill a prescription.

In many cases, after a child is given the wrong medication the parent will quickly realize that there has been an error because their child will exhibit symptoms. However, some symptoms may not arise immediately, and may take days, weeks, or even months to arrive. Generally speaking, a Maryland pharmacy error victim has three years to bring a claim under the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations may be tolled from the time of the error to the point where the patient realizes that she suffered injury. Additionally, if the patient is a minor, the statute of limitations is tolled until the day before the minor turns 18 years old. However, just like most things in life, it is not a good idea to wait until the last minute to file a claim.

Newborn Baby Given the Wrong Medication by Local Pharmacy

Earlier this month, a local news article reported on a pharmacy error that allegedly occurred at a CVS pharmacy. Evidently, a mother picked up what she thought was a prescription for her newborn daughter’s acid reflux. The mother gave the medication to her daughter for two weeks before realizing that the drug the pharmacist provided her was actually a steroid. During the period when the newborn was taking the unprescribed steroid, she was vomiting, swollen, not sleeping and cried more often than usual.

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Medication errors are believed to be one of the leading causes of death across the United States. Indeed, there have been countless studies focusing on the causes of pharmacy errors and the best ways to reduce them. However, the fact remains that medication errors result in over 3.5 million hospitalizations each year, with over a million of those to the emergency room.

The exact number of patients harmed by Maryland pharmacy errors is difficult to determine. In part, this is due to the lax reporting requirements. In Maryland, as is common across the United States, pharmacists are not required to report most of their errors, and do so only voluntarily.

According to a recent investigative report, pharmacy errors are routinely swept under the rug and kept out of the public eye. The report recounts the case of a man who died after ingesting the wrong medication that he obtained from his local pharmacy. The man’s autopsy report confirmed that the pills on the bottle did not match those which he was prescribed. However, pharmacist “neither admitted or denied” the allegations, and was ultimately fined $3,000.

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