Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal had a scary cover story titled Case Spurs Pharmacies' Fears of Lawsuits Over Drug Abuse. (Click here for a free summary if you can't access the article.)
The article describes a lawsuit against a group of pharmacies for dispensing prescription painkillers to a woman who killed someone while driving high on hydrocodone.
Just my $0.02, but I think it’s ludicrous to pin the blame on a pharmacy for the deranged behavior of one consumer. The pharmacy chains are being dragged into this case because they have deep pockets, not because they should be responsible for the tragedies described in this article.
THE REPORTED FACTS
The personal tragedies described in this story are a heartbreaking reminder that prescription drug abuse is a serious problem.
Briefly, a woman who abused prescription painkillers went for a drive and swerved off the road, killing one man and seriously injuring another. Alas, the driver was unhurt. There were prescription bottles and 167 loose pills of hydrocodone, Soma and other drugs in her car. A blood test detected hydrocodone after the accident. The driver pleaded guilty to two counts of reckless driving and served nine months in jail. Yes, only nine months.
Here’s where things get complicated.
According to the article, Nevada’s Prescription Controlled Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force sent a letter to 14 pharmacies in the Las Vegas area one year prior to the accident warning that the woman could be abusing drugs after she purchased 4,500 painkillers in one year.
The victims’ families duly filed a lawsuit against seven pharmacy-chain owners—including Wal-Mart, Walgreen, CVS Caremark and Rite Aid—and one independent drugstore.
PIN THE BLAME ON THE PHARMACY?
According to the WSJ reporter, “The case, Sanchez vs. Wal-Mart Stores et al, asks whether drugstores must use information at their disposal to protect the public from potentially dangerous customers.”
Let me put it another way: Can the seller be held liable if the buyer does something incredibly stupid after leaving the store? Why not sue the car dealer that sold her the car? Or the gas station where she filled up before the accident? If this case goes against pharmacies, there could be a never-ending stream of brand-new “liabilities” and "responsibilities" for pharmacies.
Plus, I don’t see how any single pharmacy or pharmacist would have been able to deny filling her prescription since the woman was using multiple pharmacies to get her pills. Dispensing controlled substances doesn't fall into the category of a “commoditized activity” per my article about Wal-Mart last month.
More questions: Where was law enforcement? Why didn't they intervene once the form letter from the Nevada Board was mailed? The protagonist in this drama served only nine months! Didn't she know that she was abusing the prescriptions meds, or has she been absolved of all responsbility?
Am I’m missing something in this story? I’m curious to know what my pharmacist readers think about this case.
A Friendly Reminder
Special introductory pricing for the U.S. Pharmacy Industry: Economic Report and Outlook ends on Saturday. Be sure to download the report this week before the price goes up.