Pharmacy Techs a Root Cause of Pharmacy Errors

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by | Mar 26, 2010 | Pharmacy Errors

People view the pharmacy as an extension of their doctor’s office and, consequently, they have a high level of trust in the pharmacy. This trust, however, may be misplaced in the modern-day retail pharmacy. While there is no national reporting system for pharmacy errors, the Institute of Medicine and the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy estimate that at least 5 percent of all prescriptions filled in the United States every year are incorrect.

National Law Firm Often Finds Pharmacy Techs at Fault
Kansas City-based Horn Law has devoted a significant majority of its personal injury law practice to cases involving pharmacy error. We have represented individuals injured by pharmacy errors across the country since 2004.

In the course of our casework, we have identified several characteristics that lead to a mistake-prone pharmacy. While there is little doubt that overwhelmed and under-staffed pharmacies are at risk for a greater error rate, our cases confirm that pharmacy clerks, commonly referred to as “Pharmacy Techs,” often are responsible for pharmacy mistakes that injure or kill their customers.

Pharmacy Techs
The fact that Pharmacy Techs may be a primary culprit of medication errors in the pharmacy is not surprising when you consider the Pharmacy Tech’s vital responsibilities. Retail pharmacies typically depend upon Pharmacy Techs to ensure the accuracy of prescription intake, preparation and delivery. Although a Pharmacist does have oversight and verification responsibilities, the reality is that Pharmacy Techs complete the prescription work-up and preparation in most cases.

In Missouri, anyone over the age of 18 can work as a Pharmacy Tech provided they register with the Missouri State Board of Pharmacy. There are no requirements or laws pertaining to the education, training or certification of Pharmacy Techs. Because of the low standards in Missouri, many Pharmacy Techs with no prior experience take jobs for wages that start under $10 per hour. Transferring more pharmacy jobs to lower-paid employees such as Pharmacy Techs helps large retail pharmacies appease corporate goals to maximize profits and prescription volumes.

The lack of education and training requirements for Pharmacy Techs ultimately puts the public at risk, especially given the important functions that they perform. Pharmacist supervision of Pharmacy Techs is not enough, as this oversight responsibility can easily be overlooked when a pharmacy is busy.

Horn Law Pharmacy Error Case Examples
Beyond prescription verification responsibilities, the citizens of Missouri might be surprised to learn that Pharmacy Techs may be called upon to perform more complex tasks such as mixing and compounding medications.

We recently resolved a case for a St. Joseph, Missouri, woman afflicted with multiple sclerosis (MS) who relied upon a special medication to slow the disease’s progress. Unbeknownst to her, her medication was compounded incorrectly by a Pharmacy Tech, resulting in an overdose of 4 times the prescribed dosage. The mistake caused violent illness. Thankfully, doctors were able to stabilize our client, although the long-term effects and her MS prognosis are undetermined.

In another recent case of Pharmacy Tech error, we are representing a client in southeast Missouri who was subjected to an overdose of thyroid medication causing short- and long-term illness and thyroid harm. A Pharmacy Tech at a large national chain store incorrectly filled a routine refill of her prescription, representing a 6.5-times increase in her regularly prescribed dosage.

These recent examples confirm our experience in other cases. Missouri Pharmacy Techs, who are not required to have any education, training or certification, are being asked to perform vital pharmacy tasks with the public safety at stake.

The Solution
If it were true that Pharmacy Techs were limited to clerk and register functions, Missouri’s present law requiring Pharmacy Techs to register would be adequate. But the fact remains that Pharmacy Techs play a very important role in the modern-day retail pharmacy. Missouri should follow many other states and require Pharmacy Techs to meet stringent requirements and certifications before they are turned loose in a pharmacy.

Ohio, much like Missouri, did not have any significant regulations governing Pharmacy Techs. That changed this past January when Governor Ted Strickland signed legislation known as Emily’s Law.

This law was enacted as the result of a medication error caused by a Pharmacy Tech that caused the death of Emily Jerry, a 2-year-old cancer patient. Emily died because a Pharmacy Tech compounded a fatal dose of chemotherapy. In 2008, with the support of Senator Tim Grendell, Emily’s Law was introduced into the Ohio State Senate. The law provides that a Pharmacy Tech be at least 18 years old, pass a board-certified competency exam and register with the Ohio State Board of Pharmacy. The law also provides new standards pertaining to training, education, criminal records and disciplinary actions.