Three tips to protect yourself from potentially deadly pharmacy errors
Lawsuit: Walgreens gives man wrong medication, altering his brain function and causing suicide attempt
A man recently sued Walgreens after he was given the wrong prescription. His physician had ordered a prescription for a muscle relaxant, cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril), to help treat pain that he was experiencing from a car wreck. According to the lawsuit, the Walgreens pharmacist gave him another customer’s medication by mistake.
The medication meant for the other patient, who, by the way had the same first and last name as the plaintiff, was alprazolam (Xanax). Xanax is a psychiatric medicine used to treat anxiety and panic disorders. Studies have established that the highest patient risk of Xanax is suicide, by altering nerve impulses and neurotransmitters in the brain.
Unfortunately, the two medications have a similar appearance, so the patient did not recognize the mistake. Shortly after taking the medication that Walgreens should have never dispensed to him, alprazolam (Xanax), the man had altered and suicidal thoughts that caused him to shoot himself in the head. Amazingly, the man survived, but, of course, suffers from head trauma and other physical problems related to the suicide attempt.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiff alleges that Walgreens employees did not put the proper label on the pill container and failed to verify the patient’s correct identity.
As a Houston, Texas medical malpractice lawyer, I have handled a number of medication error cases involving pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS.
The standard of care requires pharmacies to have sophisticated systems in place to prevent them from filling medications that are dangerous, warned against, or contraindicated for patients. Sometimes these systems help to identify deadly or risky drug-drug interactions that could occur if the new prescription was mixed with another medication that the patient is already taking.
When the pharmacy warning system is triggered, the standard of care requires a pharmacist to contact the prescribing doctor, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant to discuss the warning or contraindication, and obtain approval before dispensing and filling the medication to the patient.
These are the typical types of cases that occur when it comes to pharmacy negligence. The case that we discussed, though, is of a different nature.
The standard of care and pharmacy rules require pharmacists and pharmacy staff members to use caution and vigilance when filling a prescription. Put bluntly, pharmacies must make sure that the correct medication prescribed for a patient gets into a bottle with the patient’s name on it, and then is given to the correct patient. Rushing or skipping safety steps at any point along the way leads to needless danger to patients.
While the standard of care requires pharmacists and pharmacy employees to verify patient name and date of birth, you can improve your own safety by taking things a bit further.
First, any time you see a doctor or other healthcare provider, I recommend keeping a healthcare journal. Make entries in your journal with the date of each prescription, including the name, dosage, and frequency of the medication, and the purpose of the prescription. Even better, ask for a copy of the prescription order.
Second, when picking up a prescription, be sure to tell the pharmacy employee your name and birthdate. When you are given the medication package, check the label to ensure that it has your name and address on it, as well as the name of the healthcare provider who wrote or called in the prescription. Then, of course, compare the name of the medication listed on the packaging with your copy of the prescription or what you wrote down in your healthcare journal.
Third, take advantage of counseling with a pharmacist. The standard of care requires pharmacy staff to offer pharmacist counseling to any patient picking up a prescription. This affords yet another opportunity for improving medication safety, during which you can tell the pharmacist what you understand you have been prescribed and why. You should also mention any medications that you have been recently taking. The pharmacist will be able to verify that you are being given the correct medication, and then give other relevant advice.
We are here to help
The medical malpractice lawyers at Painter Law Firm, in Houston, Texas, are experienced in handling pharmacy malpractice, including medication errors, botched prescriptions, and giving the wrong medication. If you or a loved one has been seriously injured as a result of medical negligence, call us at 281-580-8800, for a free consultation about your potential case.
Robert Painter is a medical malpractice and wrongful death attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. A former hospital administrator, he files lawsuits on behalf of patients and family members against pharmacies, hospitals, doctors, and other healthcare providers. He is a writer and speaker on medical malpractice topics, and previously served as editor-in-chief of The Houston Lawyer magazine. He is a current member of the editorial board of the Texas Bar Journal.
Robert Painter is a medical malpractice lawyer at Painter Law Firm PLLC.
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Published in the July/August 2018 edition of "The Houston Lawyer" magazine