Articles Posted in Pharmacy Errors in the News

Each year, it is estimated that there are approximately 700,000 medication errors resulting in over 100,000 patient hospitalizations. The pharmacy industry realizes that this is a major problem, and for decades has been taking steps to reduce the rate of prescription errors among retail and hospital pharmacists. Most recently, a representative from the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) gave a lecture discussing common types of pharmacy errors and what pharmacists can and should do to guard against them.

Legal News GavelMedication errors occur due to a breakdown somewhere along the line; from when a physician writes a prescription to when the pharmacist provides it to the patient. According to a recent industry news report detailing the speaker’s comments, she claimed that pharmacy errors occur throughout various points in the process, and pharmacists should take precautions every step of the way.

The ISMP representative discussed that there are several situations in which an error was more likely to occur. For example, when a pharmacist is dealing with drug shortages, vaccines, improperly or unlabeled medication, and insufficient drug allergy alerts, the rate of error was highest. The pharmacist detailed three of the most alarming prescription errors that she was made aware of over the past year, including:

  • A patient who was prescribed 25 mg of hydralazine rather than the prescribed medication, hydroxyzine;
  • A child-patient who developed Parkinson-like symptoms after being provided with an improperly diluted dose of risperidone; and
  • An elderly Alzheimer’s patient who was given both a 5mg and 10 mg dose of donepezil at the same time rather than the prescribed 5mg dose for four weeks to be followed by the 10mg dose afterward.

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Over the past decade, the U.S. has seen a dramatic increase in the number of deaths as a result of opioid use and abuse. Indeed, according to the most recent government statistics, over 35,000 people die each year as a result of opioid overdoses. Roughly half of these deaths are caused by prescription painkillers. These figures represent a nearly three-times increase over previous years.

The recent rash of opioid deaths has called into question the medical profession’s reliance on these drugs to treat pain. Notwithstanding the well-understood dangers of opioid use and abuse, opioid painkillers are still prescriLegal News Gavelbed in record numbers each year. Not surprisingly, given the number of prescriptions filled each year, there are a significant number of pharmacy errors involving opioids.

Regardless of the type of medication involved, pharmacists have a duty to ensure that a patient’s prescription is filled accurately. This means not only making sure that the correct drug is provided to the patient, but also providing the proper dose and instructions. When pharmacists make an error involving a drug as dangerous as an opioid painkiller, there is a high likelihood that the patient could accidentally overdose.

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Medical professionals, such as doctors, nurses, and pharmacists, are human, and as a result, it is expected that they will, on occasion, make mistakes. This does not mean that they are bad people or have a malicious intent behind their actions; the vast majority of medical errors are results of a system that places too heavy a burden on medical professionals.

Legal News GavelPutting aside the lack of intent to cause harm, the reality is that Maryland pharmacy errors do cause a significant number of patients to suffer serious injuries each year. According to a recent study by Johns Hopkins University, there are over 250,000 pharmacy errors each year. However, according to a recent news report discussing the new study, the actual rate of pharmacy errors may be much higher than originally thought.

The reason for the potential disparity, the article claims, is the manner in which physicians, funeral directors, coroners, and medical examiners fill out death certificates. Evidently, it is common practice to use broad categories when referring to someone’s cause of death. This, in effect, groups preventable medical errors that were results of human or computer errors in with other non-preventable causes of death. As a result, the reported instances of preventable pharmacy errors are difficult to determine.

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When a pharmacist gives a patient the wrong medication, or the incorrect dose of the proper medication, the patient can be put in great danger. The range of medical issues that can result from a Maryland pharmacy error is broad, but the most common problems that arise after a pharmacy error are adverse reactions and overdoses.

Legal News GavelMany prescription medications are controlled for the very reason that they interact negatively with a large number of other medications – both prescription and over-the-counter. Other medications are controlled due to the fact that they require a very precise dosage to be effective. If these medications are provided in excess strength, the patient may suffer an overdose that can potentially be fatal.

Of course, pharmacists are responsible to correctly fill patients’ prescriptions. And while pharmacists cannot normally be held criminally liable for their errors, injured patients and their families may be able to pursue a claim for financial compensation from the pharmacist as well as their employer. These pharmacy error lawsuits, however, can be complex due to the scientific issues that arise when attempting to prove that a pharmacist’s error was the cause of the patient’s injuries.

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When a pharmacist provides a patient with the wrong medication, and the patient suffers harm as a result of the pharmacist’s error, the patient may be entitled to monetary compensation though a Maryland pharmacy error lawsuit. However, while these cases seem to present straightforward and easily identifiable issues, in practice, pharmacy error cases can be extremely complex. Most often, these complexities arise when attempting to establish causation.

Legal News GavelSome pharmacy error cases, however, are straightforward, and liability is more easily established. When this is the case, it is more likely that the defendant pharmacy will opt to settle the case out of court rather than take the case to trial.

Regardless of the specific facts at issue, pre-trial settlements can help both sides in a Maryland personal injury case. For one, settlement agreements allow for each side to know exactly what the outcome of the case will be without the uncertainty of having a trial. This allows for pharmacies to more accurately gauge what their liabilities will be and allows for the victims to have a firm grasp on how much compensation they will receive for their injuries. In addition, pre-trial settlements can result in the efficient resolution of a case, often saving months, if not years. For these reasons, among others, it is estimated that approximately 95% of all civil cases result in the parties settling the case out of court.

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Tens of thousands of patients are provided the wrong medication, wrong dose, or wrong instructions in their prescriptions each year. These Maryland pharmacy errors can range in seriousness. On one end of the spectrum are the errors that are caught by the patient before any medication is ingested. While these errors present no risk of injury, they are still alarming.

Legal News GavelMore serious prescription errors are those that result in serious injuries or death. While there are tens of thousands of documented errors each year, approximately 7,000 of these errors are fatal. Over the past decade, the pharmacy industry has been the focus of many studies looking at how to decrease the cases of serious and fatal errors. A recent report discusses five of the most common recommendations for pharmacists to take that will decrease their error rates.

Provide enough pharmacists – One of the leading causes of pharmacy errors is that the pharmacist filling the prescription is overworked. By ensuring that there are enough pharmacist staff members on duty, pharmacies are able to keep workloads manageable and provide much-needed breaks to pharmacists.

Pharmacists are responsible for ensuring that the prescriptions they fill are correct. Of course, this means that pharmacists must take care to provide patients with the correct medication, at the correct dose, and with the appropriate dosing instructions. To be sure, most medication errors involve an oversight involving one of these issues. However, according to a recent news article, a pharmacist in New Zealand recently provided one patient with a three-month supply of medication that was just one month away from being expired.

Legal News GavelEvidently, a patient went to the pharmacy to fill a prescription of Ferrograd. When the pharmacist provided the patient with the requested three-month supply, the pills provided to the patient were to expire in one month. A few months later, the patient went back to refill another prescription. This time, the pharmacist gave the patient the wrong drug entirely. At this time, the patient double-checked her Ferrograd prescription and realized it was expired. She returned the prescription for a replacement.

The supervisory board found that the pharmacist failed to fulfill the duty that was owed to the patient, and it implemented an investigation into the pharmacy’s practices. The pharmacy explained that whoever dispensed the prescription wrote down the incorrect drug name and retrieved the incorrect pills from a similar-looking bottle. The pharmacist ended up acknowledging her mistake and providing the patient with a written apology.

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Pharmacy errors have been on the rise over the past few years. While there are many reasons why a pharmacist may give the wrong medication to a patient, one of the most commonly reported causes of pharmacy errors is look-alike and sound-alike drug names.

Legal News GavelThe pharmaceutical industry relies heavily on marketing to sell medication. Once a medication is established as effective and becomes popular, other medications that perform a similar function may be released with similar-looking or -sounding names. This can create a dangerous situation when a busy pharmacist needs to fill multiple medications for drugs that all sound the same, each with its own dosing requirements and instructions.

The Government’s Efforts to Curb Pharmacy Errors

According to an article in a recent industry publication, the Food and Drug Administration’s Division of Medication Error Prevention and Analysis (DMEPA) has recently ramped up its efforts to review drug labels prior to FDA approval in hopes of decreasing the total number of errors due to look-alike and sound-alike drugs.

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While pharmacists are certainly busy medical professionals, there is no excuse to cut corners or to engage in any shortcuts that could potentially put a patient’s life at risk. However, despite the importance of a pharmacist’s role in a patient’s overall medical care, there are often lapses in care or judgment that put recovering patients at an increased risk of re-admission to the hospital. Similarly, even patients picking up routine medications are put at risk of serious complications when pharmacy errors are made.

Legal News GavelLegally, pharmacists have a duty to ensure that they provide a certain level of acceptable care. To be sure, this does not mean that a pharmacist can be held liable for every adverse drug reaction; however, when there is evidence that a pharmacist did not provide the adequate level of care, patients who suffered as a result may be entitled to monetary compensation for their injuries.

Proving that a pharmacist’s actions were legally deficient is not difficult in many pharmacy error cases, especially when the case involves allegations of the pharmacist providing a patient with the wrong medication or the wrong dosage of the correct medication. However, one of the most common areas in which plaintiffs run into problems is in establishing causation. Causation is an element in almost all pharmacy error cases that requires the plaintiff to establish that the defendant’s negligent act resulted in their injuries. In pharmacy error cases, this often requires the testimony of one or more medical experts.

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Last month, a jury in Massachusetts rendered a guilty verdict in a case brought against a pharmacist who had run a pharmacy that was tied to hundreds of cases of meningitis in 20 states. According to a national news source covering the case, the pharmacist was acquitted of murder charges but was convicted on several counts of “racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, mail fraud and introduction of misbranded drugs into interstate commerce with the intent to defraud and mislead.”

Legal News GavelEvidently, the pharmacist ran a compounding pharmacy that would create custom-made medications. However, inspections conducted during the investigation revealed that the equipment used to create the medication was not sterilized, and ingredients used in the process had expired. In addition, prosecutors alleged that the pharmacist, as well as several of his employees, actively lied about the condition of the lab.

The medication created in the lab was shipped to 20 states and was tied to 700 cases of meningitis. It is believed that 64 people died due to the unsafe medication that was created in the lab, which was the deadliest meningitis outbreak in U.S. history.

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