Drug interactions occur when one drug changes how another drug works, and many of the drugs involved are only dangerous when patients take them simultaneously. This is a problem across the country, including in North Carolina, where the pharmacy board found that one pharmacist ignored computer safety warnings, leading to the hospitalization of a 49-year-old woman. However, the safety failures remain unchecked.
Hundreds of hazardous drug combinations include common antibiotics, antidepressants, blood thinners, cholesterol and other medications that treat heart conditions, high blood pressure and migraines. Although the harm that these interactions cause is preventable, experts believe that thousands of patients suffer because of medical neglect and errors. A majority of these patients depend on their physicians for protection against drug interactions, but prescribers are usually unaware of the harmful combinations or depend on pharmacists for this expertise, according to studies. In turn, pharmacists go along with the physicians' orders, trusting in their discretion.
Hospitals and pharmacies use computers to screen for potential drug mixtures, but so many alerts are triggered that they are usually ignored. Studies also indicate that pharmacists approve harmful prescription mixes more often during busy work shifts. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy says that one of the major duties of a pharmacist is to warn patients about harmful drug mixtures. However, many pharmacists say that they are not legally responsible when injured patients sue them. Additionally, the FDA and a majority of state pharmacy and medical boards do not obligate pharmacists and doctors to report cases in which patients are harmed because of drug interactions.
Patients who are harmed because of a medication error may wonder what recourse they have. A medical malpractice attorney can often review the patient's medical records and obtain the opinion of experts in order to determine whether the error constituted negligence.
Source: Sun Herald, "Dangerous Doses: Drug Mix Leaves Woman Fighting for Life," Karisa King and Sam Roe, Feb. 16, 2016