HOUSTON—Pharmacists are paid to get it right, but according to lawsuits, pharmacies may be dispensing the wrong medication to patients more often than you might think.
Lionnie Randle says it happened to him.
Randle, who suffers from congestive heart failure, says his pills are a lifeline.
"I cannot miss a day, because my heart is so weak. He said it beats like a 70-year-old’s," Randle, who is 40, said.
But over the weekend at a Walgreens in southeast Houston, Randle says he got the wrong pills.
The pharmacist was supposed to give him a drug that treats hypertension. Instead, he got a parasite medication.
"I got real sick. Falling down. Nosebleeds," Randle said. "I was very upset and angry."
The mix-up sent Randle to the hospital for two days.
After his release, Randle said he confronted pharmacy employees.
"And I told them, ‘This is my life. It could have affected my heart and I could have died.’ But they didn’t care," he said.
Now, Randle’s attorney plans to take legal action, adding to a list of lawsuits against pharmacies.
"There’s no room for error," attorney Jason Gibson said. "It’s a very thin line. One wrong move, one wrong prescription can be the difference between life and death."
According to the lawsuits, pharmacies run by Walgreens, CVS, Kelsey-Seybold Medical Group and Walmart have all made mistakes with patients.
Todd Beathard, a lifelong bipolar disorder patient, says he took the wrong medication, and it cost him his job.
"I’m very disgusted about the situation," he said. "I was very lethargic. I could not motivate myself to do anything. I could barely get up."
It’s a big problem, and it’s happening all over the state.
According to the annual report from the Texas State Board of Pharmacy, there were 281 complaints about dispensing errors last year alone, and those are just the examples the board knows of. Officials say most cases are resolved between the pharmacy and the customer without a formal complaint ever being lodged.
The Board of Pharmacy uses field investigators to track complaints and issue fines.
"And we try to get from them what are you going to do to fix it so that this doesn’t happen again," Gay Dodson, Executive Director of the Board of Pharmacy, said.
It’s an imperfect system, and it’s not a guarantee to keep customers safe in a state where 235 million prescriptions are filled every year.
"When an error occurs, it’s not because someone comes to work that day saying, ‘I’m going to make an error.’ It’s because there’s a breakdown in the system," Dodson said.
But critics say that breakdown puts people at risk.
"There’s a problem, and the problem needs to be fixed," Gibson said.
Experts advise customers to ask questions before taking any drug that seems different.
"If anything is different, if they get a refill and the pill is a different color or a different shape, go back to the pharmacist and find out why," Dodson said.
Representatives for the pharmacies involved in the lawsuits declined to give interviews because of the pending litigation, but each said keeping customers safe is their highest priority.