I recently had a new client come into the office who was suffering from several significant medical issues. The cause of these issues was the medication he was taking. Unbeknownst to him when his prescription for acid reflux was filled by the pharmacist he was given the wrong medication. He was actually given a medication to treat a heart disorder instead. Because the pill color, size and shape was similar if not identical he took the wrong medication for a month before realizing the error. During this month he was experiencing symptoms and having problems which he never imagined were caused by the medicine provided to him by the pharmacy. He is still sick and as of now does not know if these symptoms will ever go away.

In the United States literally billions of prescriptions are filled annually in pharmacies. Some recent studies have suggested that up to five percent of all prescriptions filled contain errors. These pharmacy errors include negligence in dispensing, failure to give proper warnings or instructions, errors in labeling, errors in compounding, contaminating a prescribed drug and others. Perhaps the most common of these errors as was the case with my client are dispensing errors. Errors which can occur in dispensing include placing the medication in the wrong bag so that it is given to the wrong patient, the medication is labeled incorrectly or the chemist dispenses the incorrect dosage of the medication.

Unfortunately the negative effects of pharmacist or pharmacy errors are numerous. The implications are very serious since people rely on their correctly prescribed drugs to ensure their health and without these drugs are put in danger. Additionally the incorrect drug which has been received can cause serious health risks and dangers which places the persons health and well being in danger.

In New Jersey pursuant to State law the practice of pharmacy is declared a health care professional practice affecting the public health, safety and welfare and is subject to regulation and control in the public interest. The State recognizes that “Medication error” is a preventable event that may cause or lead to inappropriate use of a medication or patient harm. In New Jersey as in most states a pharmacists negligence in providing the wrong drug is actionable. It is only fair that public policy favors a tort scheme which encourages pharmacists to exercise great care in filling prescriptions. To not allow civil liability would be to remove one deterrent against the negligent dispensing of drugs. New Jersey Courts have followed the lead of others in declaring that the claim of a pharmacist providing the wrong drug is one involving “clear and palpable negligence.” In one instance the Court indicated that the deviation by a pharmacist who provides a drug different than the one prescribed is as clear as the deviation of a dentist who pulls the wrong tooth.

What this case shows is that you as the patient and the person receiving your drugs must be vigilant in making sure you are provided with the correct medication. Always check to make sure the drug received is the proper drug. Check that label and make sure the name of the person and the drug is correct. And check the pill itself to make sure it is the same one you know is correct. If you ever have a problem as a result of receiving the wrong drug immediately seek medical assistance. If the results or problems caused are serious to you then consult an attorney to preserve your legal rights. People trust not merely their health but in some instances their lives to the knowledge, care and prudence of pharmacists, and in some cases even a slight want of care can prove to be fatal. It is therefore proper and reasonable that the care required shall be proportioned to the danger involved.

Mike Foster is a Shareholder in Stark & Stark’s Marlton, New Jersey office, concentrating in Accident & Personal Injury Law. For more information, please contact Mr. Foster.