Our practice focuses on medical errors and their impact on our client’s lives and the lives of their families. Oftentimes, these cases stem from care received at a hospital or a doctor’s office. However, medical errors can happen in all branches of medicine. Today, we examine that quite literally by looking at medicine and the pharmaceutical industry. While we often take for granted prescriptions we receive from our local pharmacy, it seems as though there has been a recent increase in pharmaceutical errors that can sometimes lead to life-threatening problems.
This morning’s New York Times focused on one shocking tragedy; the trial of Barry J. Cadden. Mr. Cadden is the owner and head pharmacist of the New England Compounding Center. The trial stems from what the Times describes as “one of the worst public health crises in the nation’s history.” In 2012, a number of medications manufactured by the New England Compounding Center became tainted leading to an outbreak of meningitis and other serious infections. The outbreak affected more than 700 people and sadly killed 64 people. Hundreds of other patients now live with constant, terminal pain that affects many aspects of their everyday life.
As a result of this outbreak, Mr. Cadden was charged with 50 counts of mail fraud and racketeering and 25 counts of second-degree murder. The trial revealed that investigators found a number of unsafe conditions in the pharmacy such as dirty mats and hoods, debris floating in vials of medications and a “clean room” that was infested with insects and mice. The Times notes, “Prosecutors said that Mr. Cadden had been told the drugs could have been contaminated, but that he recklessly disregarded industry regulations in pursuit of higher profits.” Prosecutors also contended that the New England Compounding Center was “masquerading” as a pharmacy even though it was manufacturing medications. This allowed the company to evade oversight by the Food and Drug Administration.
At the conclusion of trial, the jury convicted Mr. Cadden on the mail fraud claims but found him not guilty on the second-degree murder charges. Each mail fraud charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. But for the families of the victims, no sentence can bring their loved ones back and no pill can remedy the victim’s pain. Angel Farthing was 46 when she was diagnosed with spinal meningitis from this outbreak. She explains that as a result, “I have a lifetime of pain. Standing hurts, bending over hurts, putting my socks on hurts.” She is frustrated by the verdict and hopes that Mr. Cadden will spend years in jail.
While a jury ultimately held Mr. Cadden criminally accountable for his company’s errors, patients should also take steps to make sure that the medicine they are using is safe. This includes going on the internet and researching prescribed drugs to make sure that any side effects will not impact any other medical conditions a patient has. A list of all potential side effects for each drug can be found at drugs.com. Additionally, patients should make sure that their doctor and pharmacist is aware of all of their medical conditions so that the patient is prescribed the appropriate medication.
Patients should also always check the pill bottle before leaving the pharmacy to make sure the proper medication was delivered. Just last year, one of our client’s was given the wrong medication at her local pharmacy. She had been taking the medication for years and the pills looked very similar. The woman suffered an allergic reaction to the incorrect medication resulting in a trip to the emergency room. While everything thankfully turned out ok, the dangers from taking the wrong medication can be very serious.