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Walgreens Instruction Error Costs 46-Year Old His Life

April 23rd, 2014

Walgreens Pharmacy advertises itself as “The Pharmacy America Trusts,” but more and more frequently the chain has been found to have made serious and even fatal mistakes. In the case of 46-year old Terry Paul Smith, the pharmacy’s error cost him his life.

Smith was a roofer living in Jacksonville, Florida. He suffered from a chronic condition called neuropathy which is a nerve disorder. He was constantly in pain from his legs and back and had been prescribed Oxycontin and Neurontin, but had asked his physician to find him another medication because he was unhappy with the mental fuzziness that those drugs caused.  The physician, Dr. William Carriere, switched him to a prescription for 10-milligram pills of methadone. The doctor’s orders were for Smith to take two tablets, two times a day.

Unfortunately, when Smith took the prescription to the Walgreens pharmacy close to the long-term motel where he, his wife and children were staying, the instructions on the bottle’s label indicated that the two tablet dose was to be taken “as needed for chronic pain,” and so the man ended up taking at least 22 pills the next day and a half.  Later that night Terry Smith and his wife Pearl argued and made up, and she went to sleep while he went to the bathroom. The next morning she awoke and found her husband lying curled up in the shower, dead.

At first the Walgreens error was not discovered. Terry Smith’s death certificate indicated that he had died of a heart attack, and though his wife insisted that an autopsy was in order, her requests were ignored. More than two months later she was able to convince the county medical examiner to exhume her husband’s body based on the fact that he had recently started taking methadone, and the autopsy on his body revealed that he had died of methadone toxicity. Following that report the widow’s attorneys discovered the wording on the prescription bottle of methadone.

According to Pearl Smith, the news was devastating. “It swept me at the knees. I couldn’t understand how that mistake could be made.”

Smith remembered the day that the prescription was filled, and took note of the fact that when they had picked up the prescription at the Walgreens drive-through window the employee’s question about whether they needed information on the prescription had been worded in a very negative way. “You don’t have any questions for the pharmacist, do you?” she recalled.

As it turned out the prescription instructions were typed up incorrectly by a 22-year old part-time pharmacy technician named Tomario Lewis, and was filled by a pharmacist who was dealing with an extremely heavy workload. The case was settled out of court with a confidentiality agreement barring disclosure of the terms, but the pretrial information available is a strong indication of the serious quality control problems experienced at the major pharmaceutical chain.

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Gavin P. Lentz, Esq.
Bochetto & Lentz

Gavin Lentz (right) was selected as a "Super Lawyer" for 2006-2009 and 2010-2015 in New Jersey by Philadelphia Magazine. He has also been selected as a "Super Lawyer" by Philadelphia Magazine and the Legal Intelligencer in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 - 2015.

On September 16, 2002 Mr. Lentz was selected as one of the top 50 lawyers in Pennsylvania by the Legal Intelligencer.

He has made many television appearances, including on Fox News, The Today Show, Inside Edition, and The Phil Donahue Show.

Mr. Lentz is a member of the American Trial Lawyers Association and the Million Dollar Advocates Forum.

As a former prosecutor, he knows how to aggressively go after large pharmacy chains to prove the facts necessary to protect your loved one's rights.

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