Articles Posted in Fatal Pharmacy Errors

Medication errors often occur after a series of failures on the part of a healthcare provider. For example, a doctor may fail to communicate with a pharmacist after suspecting a medication mix-up. In other cases, a pharmacy may lack proper procedures to verify that a pharmacist has added the correct label to the correct medication. Although individual healthcare providers often receive professional discipline after a medication error, professional licensing boards may fail to hold pharmacists or hospitals accountable for their role in the error.

As a recent news article reported, a state Board of Pharmacy gave two years’ probation to a pharmacist after a fatal medication error. According to the article, hospital staff were preparing a patient suffering a gastrointestinal bleed for a colonoscopy. The patient was supposed to receive a bowel prep medication. Instead, the patient received a dialysis liquid and died hours later.

The Kentucky Board’s investigation found that the pharmacist sent the medication label to a nurse without verifying its accuracy. According to the investigation papers, the nurse mistook the dialysis solution for the colonoscopy prep medication. After the nurse attempted to scan the medication label to ensure it was the correct medication, the nurse found it would not scan. When the nurse called the pharmacy, the pharmacist sent a new label for scanning rather than double-checking the medication or sending a new supply. In addition to the pharmacist’s errors, the investigation cited several other issues that contributed to the fatal medication error, including low nurse staffing levels and a nurse’s failure to verify the medication information.

Prescription and pharmacy errors can have devastating consequences for patients and can leave the families of loved ones left seeking compensation and punitive measures to ensure that others do not experience similar harms. A recently published news report discusses the decision by a Midwest court to deny an award of punitive damages. This case involved a labeling error and the failure to correct the error by multiple pharmacists, which resulted in the death of a patient.

According to the facts discussed in the recently published news report, a patient’s death resulted in the family suing the pharmacy for both compensatory and punitive damages. A cardiologist issued a prescription of amiodarone for a male patient who suffered from chronic ischemic heart disease and atrial fibrillation. The pharmacist responsible for initially dispensing the medication made an error by failing to completely and accurately record the medication use directions on the container label. The pharmacist’s labeling error led to the patient being instructed to take a higher daily dosage than the cardiologist intended. A second pharmacist and a third pharmacist did not catch the error when the patient returned multiple times for additional supplies of the medication. The patient’s health deteriorated and he eventually passed away.

The family sued, seeking compensatory damages and punitive damages. Compensatory damages seek to compensate a party for their expenses and the loss suffered. A liability insurance policy can cover the amount awarded as compensatory damages. The pharmacy chain in this case had liability insurance. Punitive damages, on the other hand, involve the jury awarding an amount as punishment, and in this case, as punishment specifically for the chain’s pharmacists’ failure to act in a manner that would have prevented death. Punitive damages cannot be covered by the insurance policy.

Prescription and pharmacy errors are more common than many patients and consumers may think. The vast majority of prescription errors result in little or no consequence, and many mistakes are never even caught as a result of this. In some instances, a prescription error can be catastrophic. A recently published national news report discusses the decision by a Tennessee jury to convict a nurse of negligent homicide after the death of a patient was found to be the result of a medication mix-up that the nurse was responsible for.

According to the facts discussed in the recently published news report, the 37-year-old nurse was arrested and charged with negligent homicide after one of her patients died. The patient at issue was prescribed an anti-anxiety medication called Versed but was given a paralytic agent, vecuronium, instead. At trial, the prosecution argued that the nurse improperly used an automated medication dispensing system at the nursing home, opening up the medicine cabinet manually and taking the wrong drug for her patient.

After administering the incorrect medication to the patient, the nurse did not remain with the patient to notice any harmful interactions with the drug. When a nursing home employee eventually found the patient, she had died. Medical examiners determined that vecuronium intoxication led to the patient’s death. Based on this evidence, the jury decided to convict the nurse of the charges against her. The nurse has yet to be sentenced, but she could face up to 20 years in prison for the charge.

As we all get older, it is often common to also see the number of health ailments increase. With these increased health issues, more medication and the regular upkeep of taking specific prescriptions at the right time and in the right dose also often comes into play.

Sometimes, with multiple medications at different times of the day and in different doses, it can be overwhelming to keep up with them. At a minimum, however, consumers should be able to trust that the medications they pick up from the pharmacy are accurate both in substance and in dosage. With so many people relying on pharmacies to dispense the correct medication—which sometimes can be necessary for survival or basic comfort—when a pharmacy makes a mistake that causes injury or even death for consumers, they must be held accountable.

According to a recent news report, a pharmacy admitted that errors were made when dispensing medication to an 82-year-old woman who later died. The woman was allegedly given a strong anti-depressant instead of a prescription that was supposed to treat water retention problems. After taking the incorrect medication, the woman was reportedly unable to communicate, shaking, and did not appear to be herself. The woman was taken to the hospital and died later that day. However, following her death, there has been debate as to whether it was truly the pharmacy’s dispensing error that led to her death. The incident remains under investigation because the woman had several other health issues and medications, which, when mixed, may have contributed to her death also.

Medication errors that result in serious illness or death are one of the most disturbing types of medical negligence claims. While any medical error can cause a serious or life-threatening situation, medication errors often result in immediate death. Maryland’s medication errors not only cost people their lives, but they also cost healthcare systems and taxpayers a significant amount of money every year.

When individuals seek medical treatment for a long-term condition or emergency, they understandably put their trust in the various medical providers coordinating their care. However, successful coordination requires that each provider engages in their duty of care to the patient. In many situations, one misstep can cause a deadly chain of events.

What Are the Leading Causes of Medication Errors?

Medication errors can result from a doctor’s, nurse’s, or pharmacy’s error. Many claims stem from inadequate written or oral communication, system errors, untrained medical providers, and ineffective precautions. These errors may cause patients to experience an allergic reaction, adverse side effects, or deprive them of life-sustaining medication. A medical provider or pharmacy may be liable for negligence if they

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.

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.

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.

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