Major Pharmacy Chains Missing Dangerous Drug Combinations

- Chris Roy
Louisiana Malpractice Attorney

Know what people are doing a lot of these days? Taking prescription drugs. In fact, the number of people who take five or more has doubled since 1994. We are all familiar with the long, fast-talking bit at the end of drug commercials and the fine print at the bottom of their magazine ads that list all the potential complications. Drug companies are required by law to tell you about the risks of associated side effects, but your pharmacist is supposed to tell you of any dangers associated with certain drug combinations. If a common antibiotic, for example, could ruin your kidneys and possibly kill you when combined with the popular anti-cholesterol medication you’ve been on for years, that’s something your pharmacist should be able to identify. Unfortunately, that’s not what’s happening 30 to 60 percent of the time.

That staggering statistic came from a recent comprehensive study designed by a major newspaper. Here’s what happened: A reporter with the Chicago Tribune worked with a physician who wrote prescriptions for the reporter to take to area pharmacies, including CVS, Kmart, Walmart, Walgreens, and several non-chain locations. At each pharmacy, the reporter tried to fill two prescriptions that, if combined, could have serious, possibly even fatal, side effects. The outcome? Fifty-two percent of the pharmacies sold the medications without mentioning the possible interaction. Of the chains tested, CVS (63 percent) proved most likely to not question the combination, followed by Kmart (60 percent), Walmart (43 percent), and Walgreens (30 percent). Think of it this way: Close to 1 out of 3 customers is at risk at the best-performing pharmacy. Incidentally, independent locations performed worse than the chains.

One theory is that there is an unsafe emphasis on speed. With more and more people on medication, pharmacists are pressured by the industry and by their employers to maintain a level of production, sometimes allowing them a minute or less to look through any patient information. Also, there is a general expectation among consumers that they’re entitled to short wait times, which exacerbates this notion that speed trumps quality.

Many pharmacies utilize computer programs built to detect potential dangers when the prescriptions are entered into the system, but even the systems that are up-to-date and well-maintained work only as well as the operators. Pharmacists are moving so quickly, they often overlook the alerts.

Some pharmacists report being expected to fill approximately 200 prescriptions a day, which can mean a prescription every two to three minutes. In a typical day, pharmacists are expected to do the following, in addition to filling, labeling, and dispensing drugs:

  • Create customized medications (compounding)
  • Give instructions on when and how to take the medicine
  • Check for negative interactions
  • Inform about side effects
  • Communicate between prescribers, insurance companies, and patients
  • Manage inventory
  • Keep records
  • Train and supervise technicians
  • Keep informed of drug approvals and recalls.

Overall, the Tribune tested 255 pharmacies, which revealed an industrywide situation. Since the study’s publication, several pharmacies, including CVS, Walmart, and Walgreens, have reached out with promises to do better, but even well-intentioned promises take time to execute.

If you have any questions about this topic, or if you suspect that you have been the victim of pharmacy negligence, contact experienced Louisiana medical malpractice attorney Chris Roy Jr, founder of the Chris J. Roy, Jr. Law Firm. Having practiced law for nearly 30 years, he takes pride in helping negligence victims in Alexandria, Pineville, Rapides Parish, Grant Parish, Avoyelles Parish, Allen Parish, Vernon Parish, and throughout Central Louisiana. Benefit from his assistance and knowledge by contacting the firm for a free initial consultation. Call 1-318-487-9537 to get help today.