British Columbia Woman Dies When Pharmacists Fail to Catch Dangerous Drug Combination

In a frightening case out of British Columbia, a 76-year-old, otherwise healthy woman died when she was prescribed two drugs that were known to have dangerous interactions. According to a report by one local news source, the error slipped past the physician, two pharmacists, and the computer system that tracks drug interactions.

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Evidently, the woman was on maintenance therapy for her colitis with a drug called mercaptopurine, an immunosuppressant. When the woman developed a case of gout, her prescribing doctor sent her to the pharmacy with a prescription for another drug. The two drugs were prescribed by the same doctor.

When she went to the pharmacy to fill her prescription for the new medication, no one at the pharmacy told her that the two drugs could be dangerous if taken together. The woman went home, continued taking her mercaptopurine, and started with the new drug as well.


After six weeks of taking both drugs, she developed a blister on her foot. Her son took her to the hospital, and doctors there quickly found the problem. The woman’s immune system was shutting down, leading to the bacterial infection on her foot. The woman’s son explains his mother’s death as follows: “She was so frustrated and so angry. It was a terrible struggle. It was a horrible way for anybody to die.”
Was “Alert Fatigue” Responsible for the Oversight?

Unfortunately, there is a growing phenomenon in the pharmacy industry called “Alert Fatigue.” This is when pharmacists ignore or turn off the warnings in their computer systems that alert them to drug interaction risks because they are overloaded by too many warnings, ranging from mild to severe. In other words, there are too many alerts to deal with, so pharmacists ignore them all.

This type of behavior can have obvious and drastic consequences for patients, however, and is in direct violation of the standard of care that we expect pharmacists to provide. Indeed, the prescribing doctor in the case above places the blame on the pharmacists as well, explaining that “the community pharmacist informed me that because there are so many potential interactions between medications, they have to tune down their [software] system not to flag less common or troublesome interactions.”

Whether the prescribing doctor, the pharmacist, or both are at fault is a legal question reserved for the jury.

Have You Been the Victim of a Pharmacist’s Mistake?

If you or a loved one has recently suffered serious injury due to an oversight of a pharmacist, you may be entitled to monetary damages to help compensate you for your injuries or loss. However, pharmacies typically have dedicated teams of lawyers enlisted to defend them in these types of lawsuits. To learn more about the laws in Maryland that allow for pharmacy error victims to recover for their injuries, call 410-654-3600 to set up a free initial consultation with a dedicated pharmacy error attorney today.

More Blog Posts:

New Zealand Man Dies Due to Pharmacist’s Error, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, September 3, 2014.

Pharmacist Overprescribes Blood-Thinner, Causing Man to Cough Up Blood, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, October 9, 2014.

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