Articles Posted in Fatal Pharmacy Errors

Modern medicine and technology have expanded the number of drugs and medications available to patients struggling with illness, pain, or other health concerns. However, these medications can be dangerous if taken unnecessarily or in the wrong dosage. Generally, Maryland patients cannot decide which medication they will take—they usually need a prescription from a doctor, who has years of training and experience assessing patients’ needs and prescribing drugs that fit their needs. Maryland residents trust doctors to do this for them, but occasionally errors will be made, or a doctor will have a lapse in judgment, leading to injury to the patient.

For example, recently, a government official reported on a case where a doctor breached his duty of care and acted somewhat negligently, giving a patient access to a potentially dangerous quantity of medication. According to an independent news source, the patient in question had a long history of substance addiction and mental illness. In 2017, she was prescribed two drugs. The prescription stated that the drugs were to be given to her in 14-day supplies, so she only had access to two-weeks’ worth of the drug at a given time.

A few months later, the woman requested a three-month quantity when picking up her prescription. The pharmacy sent the request to her doctor, who changed her prescription to allow the pharmacy to dispense 90-day supplies of the medications without reviewing the patient personally. This, according to the government official’s report, was very dangerous—the type and quantity of the medication could be misused, especially considering the patient’s history of substance addiction and mental illness. The doctor had erred by allowing her a 90-day supply without examining her and considering whether she was at risk for misusing the drugs, and in doing so, increased the risk of harm to the patient.

When Maryland residents become sick or injured and need to take medication, they generally trust their medical professionals and pharmacists to give them the right medication, dosage, and instructions. However, as past victims of Maryland pharmacy errors can tell you, that unfortunately does not always happen. Doctors, medical personnel, and pharmacists are human, and will occasionally make mistakes. Unfortunately, those mistakes can be deadly.

For example, take a recent error where a 55-year-old man was given ten times the amount of pain relief medication than he should have been, tragically causing him to pass away. The victim—a painter and decorator—had been taking pethidine for some time to deal with back pain from a prior incident. However, he was then switched to methadone, as there was a shortage of pethidine. When calculating how much methadone to give the man, the pharmacist made a fatal error—he believed that the methadone was of the equivalent strength to pethidine. However, 5mg of methadone is actually the equivalent of 50mg of pethidine. Because the pharmacist did not double-check, and did not know this, he gave the victim ten times the amount of medication he should have.

Just a few days after taking this medication, the victim was found dead in his home by his son. A post mortem report found that he died in part due to methadone toxicity. After his death, his daughter also discovered a methadone leaflet, which warned patients not to take methadone if they had a lung condition—which her father had. This also raised questions as to why he was prescribed methadone in the first place.

Many individuals across Maryland rely on medication to keep them healthy, or even alive. This medication is crucial, and typically must be taken regularly and in the correct dosage or significant health concerns or even death could occur. Unfortunately, for those who rely on others to handle and administer their medication, they may suffer from medication errors unbeknownst to them. This is especially true for elderly patients, who are more likely to require certain drugs to combat health problems and also more likely to have a caretaker administering said medication.

Often, caretakers administering medications to the elderly do a good job and keep the patient healthy, safe, and on schedule. However, like all human processes, there is room for error, and accidents can and do occur. Unfortunately, mistakes in this process can be deadly. For example, an 87-year-old woman relying on caretakers to give her her daily medication, recently died from a gastrointestinal bleed and stroke. According to a report covering the incident, an investigation of the victim’s death found that her caretakers had given her the wrong medication, four times a day, for two and a half days. While the incorrect medication did not cause her stroke and bleeding, the lack of her correct medicine did, and the victim suffered a tragic death as a result of the mistake.

This case highlights the extreme consequences of medication errors, especially when patients are elderly and rely on caretakers to properly administer their medications. In addition to the problems caused by missing the correct medication, patients may also suffer significant side effects, injuries, or even death caused by the incorrect medication. When this occurs, the results are disastrous and potentially deadly, and nothing can undo the damage done by seemingly simple errors.

E-prescribing or electronic prescribing has become increasingly common in recent years in Maryland and throughout the country. The practice allows the direct transmission of prescription information from a provider to a pharmacy. Many people hail the benefits of electronic prescribing, as handwritten prescriptions are inefficient and carry risks of error. The Maryland Senate introduced a bill earlier this month to allow health practitioners to issue prescriptions for certain controlled substances electronically. However, electronic prescribing carries its own set of risks. A study by the National Institutes of Health found that serious adverse effects, including deaths, have been caused by electronic prescriptions. Such errors can include entry errors, dispensing errors, and transcription errors that are unique to electronic prescribing. Electronic prescriptions require that medical professionals make particular precautions to detect and avoid mistakes. Maryland pharmacy error victims may be able to recover financial compensation in the event of an error.

One woman’s recent death was determined to be caused by an electronic prescription error, according to a news source. The woman was prescribed the drug trimethoprim for a urine infection when she was seen at a hospital. On the same day, her doctors saw test results from an earlier test that showed that an infection would not have responded to trimethoprim, and instead prescribed the woman Amoxicillin. The prescription was transmitted electronically, but by amending the prescription, the prescription for Amoxycillin was not available for the pharmacist to download. The prescription for the patient only reflected the prescription for trimethoprim.

The patient took the medication, and, four days later, was admitted to the hospital with worsening symptoms. The error was recognized, and she was treated, but the woman’s condition deteriorated and she died the following day. A coroner determined that the woman would not have died if she had taken the Amoxycillin she had been prescribed.

Vaccinations are incredibly important to the health and safety of the human population. In fact, vaccinating one’s child is one of the most critical things that a parent can do to protect them and others from many diseases. However, as with any medication or injection, vaccinations do come with some slight risks of Maryland pharmacy errors and injuries or even death.

Understanding the risks and the importance of vaccinations, Congress enacted the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program in 1986 so that those affected by vaccine-related injuries or the vaccine-related death of a loved one can petition to receive compensation for the tragic incident. Vaccine injury claims can only be litigated through this system, administered by the Office of Special Masters of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. In the 43 years since the system began, $4.2 billion in compensation has been awarded to claimants.

There are two ways to qualify for compensation under the program. The first, and easier, way is to establish an injury listed on the Vaccine Act’s injury table that occurred within a designated period after the vaccine was received. If this can be shown, causation is presumed, and compensation is awarded. Injuries on the table include anaphylaxis, chronic arthritis, shoulder injuries, and paralytic polio.

Most people fill their prescriptions at a local pharmacy. However, over the past decade, more patients have begun to use mail-order pharmacies to fill their prescriptions. For many, mail-order pharmacies offer convenience and, for some patients, medication may be available at a lower cost. However, mail order pharmacies also present certain risks to patients. Indeed, there are hundreds of Maryland medication errors resulting from the negligence of mail-order pharmacies.

Not surprisingly, given the seriousness of the substances they deal with, pharmacists have a legal duty to their patients to accurately fill prescriptions and provide sound advice regarding the provided medication. Common types of errors include giving patients the wrong medication, dose, or incorrect instructions for how to take the medication. When a pharmacist makes an error that adversely affects a patient’s health, the pharmacist may be liable for the patient’s injuries.

Recently, the family of a woman who died as a result of taking unprescribed medication filed a lawsuit against the mail-order pharmacy that filled the woman’s prescription. According to a recent news report, the error occurred back in 2013, when the 74-year-old patient was sent medication she thought to be for her various conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney dysfunction and a history of strokes. However, as it turns out, the pharmacy sent the woman six prescriptions that were meant for another woman.

Recently, an appellate court issued an opinion addressing issues that frequently occur in Maryland pharmacy error lawsuits. The lawsuit stemmed from the tragic death of a woman who received the wrong medication from her pharmacy. Evidently, the woman was treated at a hospital for fluid buildup in her lungs. At discharge, a nurse called the woman’s pharmacy, spoke to a pharmacy technician, and ordered a prescription for a diuretic. However, the technician made several errors when inputting the patient’s information, including wrong identifying information, incorrect spelling of the nurse’s name, and misspelling of several medications. However, the most egregious error was misreporting a medication and dosage. This error had severe consequences, as the patient died as a result of the incorrect medication.

The woman’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the hospital and the pharmacy, alleging damages for negligence and requesting additional damages due to aggravating circumstances. The hospital settled their claims, and the lawsuit against the pharmacy proceeded to trial. The pharmacy moved to dismiss the aggravating circumstances portion of the lawsuit. The trial court granted the motion, and the jury awarded the family two million dollars in damages; however, the amount was significantly reduced because of the applicable damage caps. The family appealed the judge’s decision to dismiss the aggravating circumstances element of their claim.

Under Maryland law, pharmacy error plaintiffs can recover damages for the injuries they sustained because of the pharmacy’s negligence. Maryland law allows plaintiffs to recover compensatory damages to make them “whole again.” There are two main types of compensatory damages, special and general. Special damages are usually tangible costs that the plaintiff incurred because of the defendant’s negligence. Whereas, general damages are those that cannot be easily quantifiable, such as pain and suffering.

Pharmacy errors frequently occur in retail pharmacies in Maryland and throughout the country. These errors are recognized as common, and experts are always coming up with new ways to reduce them. However, Maryland pharmacy errors involving mail-order prescriptions are infrequently discussed and they raise the very same concerns as retail pharmacy errors. Without having to hand a prescription to a patient in person, a prescription can be addressed and mailed to the wrong person. In a recent federal appeals court decision, the court held that the pharmacy may still be held liable in the case of an elderly patient who failed to read the labels on the medication bottles before taking the medications.

In that case, the mother was mistakenly mailed prescription medications by a mail-order pharmacy contractor. A pharmacy put in an order for prescriptions to be sent to a customer, but the contractor mistakenly shipped the package to the plaintiff’s mother. She regularly received medications by mail, and the package at issue was similar to other packages she had received. The outside of the package had the mother’s name and address, but the bottles of medication listed the other patient’s name, doctor, and medication. The mother was elderly and “barely literate,” and did not read the labels before she took the pills.

After taking the pills, the mother started to experience hallucinations and confusion. She fell and fractured her leg a few days later. She was hospitalized for the fracture, and stayed in the hospital for almost a month. She was treated for other medical issues that arose during her stay, and she died about ten days after she was discharged from the hospital.

Maryland pharmacy errors are almost all preventable. Medication errors that occur in the hospital setting are no exception. While a doctor is typically the one who prescribes a patient medication, nurses are frequently the ones who administer the medicine. Often, nurses care for numerous patients, many of which share the same symptoms, take the same medications, or have similar names. It is this potentially confusing situation that introduces the risk that a nurse can make an error in administering medication to a patient.

A recent news report detailed a pharmacy error resulting in the death of a patient. Evidently, the patient, Mrs. Cook, was in room 26. Two doors down was another patient named Mrs. Cock. Mrs. Cock was prescribed hydromorphone, a powerful painkiller that was kept in a secured cabinet in the hospital’s medication room. However, Mrs. Cook was accidentally given Mrs. Cock’s hydromorphone pills. Within nine days, Mrs. Cook died.

Two nurses were present when Mrs. Cook was given the incorrect medication. When asked about the incident, the nurse who was primarily responsible for Mrs. Cook’s care claimed that a registered nurse who was helping out was responsible for the error. He also stated that he did not see the registered nurse administer the medication to Mrs. Cook because he was busy reviewing Mrs. Cook’s chart. The nurse acknowledged that the two women were “physically quite different.” He also admitted that Mrs. Cock was able to walk while Mrs. Cook was often confused and needed assistance with most daily activities.

The idea of being given the wrong medication by a pharmacist may seem like a remote possibility for most patients; however, studies show that hundreds of pharmacy errors occur every day. While most of these errors are either caught in time or do not result in serious harm to the patient, Maryland pharmacy errors present a serious risk of illness or death.

When a patient dies from a medication error, the patient’s family can pursue a Maryland wrongful death claim against all responsible parties. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the error, responsible parties may include the pharmacist, a hospital nurse or doctor, and even the pharmacy or hospital where the error occurred.

Maryland wrongful death lawsuits must be brought by a primary beneficiary, if one exists. A primary beneficiary is defined as a husband, wife, parent, or child of the deceased. If no primary beneficiary exists, then a secondary beneficiary can bring a claim. Secondary beneficiaries are those who are “related to the deceased person by blood or marriage who was substantially dependent upon the deceased.”

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