Pharmaceutical Negligence: The Repercussions Can Be Deadly

By: Ronald M. Zakarin, Esq.

All too often, we repose our trust and confidence in our pharmacist to read a doctor’s prescription accurately, to properly fill the vial with the appropriate quantity of medication, and to provide the patient with correct instructions for taking the medication. Unfortunately, this false sense of complacency can have dire consequences. I cannot stress enough the importance of consulting your health care providers about the prescribed medication including the strength and dosing directions. Additionally, it is imperative that you check the medication dispensed to you by your pharmacist, not only with regard to the accuracy of the medication, but the amount and dosing instructions as well. Failure to heed these warnings could be deadly. The following is a true story of a patient who, because of a pharmacist=s negligence, was dispensed too much medication and provided erroneous dosing instructions.

Time stood still. Tammy, along with her husband, Bob had just been told that Tammy had cancer. As the news set in, images began to race through their minds, and they both envisioned the nightmare ahead. Then, slowly, as reality set in, they began to listen to the words being spoken by their physician. The prognosis, while less than optimal, was not dire. Surgery could be undertaken to excise the tumor, followed by a course of radiation therapy and chemotherapy. With appropriate treatment, Tammy had a good prognosis for a full and complete recovery.

Over the ensuing weeks, Bob, their two children, along with other family and friends stood by Tammy=s bed side as she was brought in for surgery. They were there following the grueling eight (8) hour procedure, and for the ensuing five (5) day hospitalization. It was a major operation, but the surgeon was optimistic that the tumor had been removed.

Tammy was released from the hospital, and began a three month course of radiation therapy. She endured this treatment, and although apprehensive, was eager to complete the next stage of the treatment, which entailed chemotherapy. The family remained optimistic that Tammy had beaten the cancer, and that following the chemotherapy, this entire ordeal could be put behind them.

Tammy returned to her oncologist and received a prescription. The prescription called for Tammy to take one (1) chemotherapy pill on day one, a second pill on day seven (7) and a final pill on day fourteen. The pharmacist delivered to Tammy the vial. It contained twenty one pills with directions to take three (3) pills a day for seven (7) days. Tammy followed these directions.

What followed next would be inconceivable to even the most creative horror film writer. Tammy=s condition began to rapidly deteriorate. She began to develop rectal bleeding and confusion. She returned to her oncologist who was perplexed about her condition. Accordingly, he ordered blood work.

The blood tests revealed that Tammy was severely anemic. A bone marrow sample obtained showed that her bone marrow had essentially been destroyed. Her body=s ability to generate oxygen carrying red blood cells no longer existed. The health care team began to investigate what had contributed to her declining health,

Bob provided Tammy=s oncologist with the empty bottle which had contained the chemotherapy medication. It became quickly apparent that the pharmacist dispensed seven (7) times the prescribed dose of the highly toxic medicine. Tammy=s condition continued to deteriorate over the next several weeks. She suffered from rectal bleeding, oral sores, herpetic lesions, hallucinations, confusion, and delirium. She required restraints. Numerous invasive procedures were performed, but ultimately, it was determined that her only chance for survival would be a bone marrow transplant. Unfortunately, she was too weak to undergo this procedure. The family watched their loved one suffer a horrific death.

The foregoing, although in an edited format, actually happened. It is my hope that this story will serve to reinforce the need for asking the right questions. Do not hesitate to be pro‑active with both with your health care team and the pharmacist entrusted to dispense your medication. It is hoped that in this fashion you can be assured that you receive the treatment protocol actually intended to maximize your chances of a full and complete recovery from all health related issues.