Pharmacists have a duty to warn customers about the hazards of drug interactions. Yet, thousands of American’s die each year from reactions to fatal drug combinations after receiving no warning at all.
Just how often do pharmacies fail to tell patients about risky medication combinations?
Can customers sue a pharmacy for failing to warn them about potential dangers?
Risk for Dangerous Drug Interactions On the Rise
Dangerous drug interactions injure tens of thousands of American’s every year. And with doctors doling out more and more medications, the statistics are only getting worse. Nearly 12% of the U.S. population is currently taking five or more prescription drugs, compared to just 5% in 1994.
Understandably, the risk for a major drug interaction event increases with the number of drugs a patient takes, growing exponentially once a patient is on four or more medications.
Deadly drug interactions are such a big problem that some valuable drugs like Astemizole, Cisapride, Mibefradil and Terfenadine, have been restricted or taken off the market completely because physicians and pharmacists don’t remember to check for or warn patients of the risks of interactions - leading to fatal consequences (regardless of multiple warnings from manufacturers and FDA).
52% Pharmacies Fail to Warn of Deadly Drug Combinations
It is difficult to know exactly how many people are injured by adverse drug interactions each year, as the cause of death or injury is not always recognized or reported. But results from a recent study published by the Chicago Tribune suggest that deadly drug combos are given to patients freely and without warning at an alarming rate.
This clever study had Tribune reporters walking into 255 pharmacies (30 stores at seven popular chains plus several independent pharmacies) with prescriptions for two drugs that, when taken together, could result in stroke, lack of oxygen, kidney failure, unexpected pregnancy or risk of birth defects.
Reporters asked pharmacies to fill prescriptions for the following five dangerous drug combos:
- Tizanidine (muscle relaxer) + Ciprofloxacin (antibiotic) = loss of consciousness
- Colchicine (gout treatment) + Verapamil (blood pressure med) = potentially fatal
- Simvastatin (cholesterol med) + Clarithromycin (antibiotic) = potentially fatal
- Clarithromycin (antibiotic) + Ergotamine (migraine treatment) = potentially fatal
- Norgestimate/ethinyl estradiol (oral contraceptive) + Griseofulvin (anti-fungal) = contraceptive failure and birth defects
According to the study, none of these drugs were new to the market, and all five combinations were well-known among health professionals for being dangerous. Trained pharmacists should have noticed them right away.
Pharmacies that tried to contact the prescribing doctor or warned the reporter of the dangers of taking the two drugs together passed the test. Those that did not, failed.
Upon seeing the dangerous script request, some pharmacists approached the counter saying, "You'll be on the floor. You can't have the two together," or "I've seen people go to the hospital on this combination,” according to the report.
But a shocking 52% percent of the 255 Chicago, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin pharmacies willingly sold these medications to the reporters without any warning of the potential interactions.
America’s largest pharmacy retailer, CVS, had the highest failure rate at 63%. Walgreens was the most successful at warning customers of the dangerous drug combinations, failing only 30% of the time. But 30% is still risking the lives of 3 out of every 10 patients.
The Tribune pointed out that neighborhood affluence didn’t matter. Pharmacies from both poor areas and wealthy suburbs, even hospital pharmacies, failed the test.
Pharmacy Policy Emphasizes Speed Over Safety
This important study highlights some major inadequacies among American pharmacies. Much of the appalling mistakes made by pharmacies today can be attributed to a handful of ongoing and serious problems, namely:
- Prioritizing speed of service over patient safety
- Prioritizing promotional pitches over patient safety
- Pharmacist overwork, multitasking and fatigue
- Faulty (or ignored) computer alert systems
- Failure to cross-reference multiple physicians
Pharmacists at popular retail spots typically fill an average of one prescription every two to three minutes. In 2012, the Institute for Safe Medication Practices reported that 25% of pharmacies guarantee short wait times and nearly 67% of pharmacies track the time it takes each pharmacist to fill prescriptions.
Many pharmacists are actually evaluated according to their speed of service. In order to meet speed requirements, pharmacists either quickly scan for dangerous interactions, or don’t look for them at all.
Another problem is that computer alert systems designed to point out potentially dangerous drug interactions tend to alarm so often that pharmacists simply learn to ignore them.
In addition, many patients are seeing multiple doctors, who don’t check with each other on what drugs the patient is currently taking. And pharmacists rarely ask.
Pharmacies also pressure employee to sell. Some pharmacists who failed the Tribune test had no time to check for dangerous drug interactions, but did make the time to offer a flu shot and try to sign the reporter up for their company savings card.
Patients Injured by Drug Interactions Deserve Compensation
American pharmacies need a major overhaul if we as consumers are expected to put our health and safety in their hands. There is zero excuse to fail to warn a customer of a potential deadly drug interaction.
Pharmacists have a duty to review patient profiles for potential drug interactions, contraindications or allergies and advise patients of any dangers.
When a pharmacist, technician or prescribing doctor does not fulfill this legal duty, the victim may file a lawsuit against the pharmacy for damages to cover:
- Medical bills
- Disability and rehabilitation
- Lost wages
- Loss of companionship or support
- Pain and suffering
Kelley/Uustal handles pharmacy negligence cases nationwide, and continues to win multi-million-dollar jury verdicts and settlements for victims in Miami, Port St. Lucie, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Cape Coral, and across the state of Florida.
If you or a loved one has been injured in any way by a negligent Florida pharmacy or pharmacy in another state, contact us at Kelley/Uustal today for a no-cost, no-obligation confidential consultation to discuss the details of your case. 954.522.6601