Citing Risk of Dangerous Medication Errors, Pharmacists Protest Corporate Pressures That Lead to Mistakes

Medication errors: Pharmacists at some of the top chains across the country tell regulators and The New York Times that understaffing and high-pressure performance metrics imposed by corporate leadership are undermining their ability to do their job safely, to the detriment of patient health. Ear drops in place of eye drops; blood pressure pills instead of asthma medication; a powerful chemotherapy drug instead of antidepressants: these are just a few of the mix-ups that have occurred, sending people around the country to hospitals and emergency rooms. Pharmacists describe being overworked and the pharmacies understaffed: “I am a danger to the public working for CVS,” reads one anonymous letter to the Texas State Board of Pharmacy. Although there are problems at multiple chains, CVS seems to be the most targeted by complaints, with an incentive program that rewards pharmacists for filling prescriptions as fast as possible, making mistakes more likely, and for filling prescriptions for longer periods to move more product, even if it puts the customer at risk.

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Suicide inequality: Children and young adults living in impoverished U.S. counties are 87 percent more likely to die by firearm suicide than children living in counties with the lowest poverty rates, according to a new study in JAMA Pediatrics. The research is the first of its kind to look at the relationship between child suicide and poverty, Ann Givens writes for The Trace, on the heels of a shocking Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report from October 2019 that shows that between 2007 and 2017, the suicide rate for people 10 to 24 years old climbed 56 percent.

Going viral: The coronavirus has now sickened more than 20,600 people in Asia, and there are likely many more unconfirmed cases, The New York Times reports. At least 425 people in mainland China have died as a result, and two people have died outside of China, in the Philippines and Hong Kong. The disease has been found in 25 other countries and territories, including the United States, where there are 11 confirmed cases. Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, told The Times it was very likely going to become a pandemic—an epidemic on at least two continents. Reporting by The New York Times’ Chris Buckley and Steven Lee Myers blames the secretive instincts of the Chinese government for the failure to act fast enough to curb the spread. “The government’s initial handling of the epidemic allowed the virus to gain a tenacious hold, they write. “At critical moments, officials chose to put secrecy and order ahead of openly confronting the growing crisis to avoid public alarm and political embarrassment.” Laurie Garrett, a journalist who covered the SARS epidemic in China and Hong Kong in 2002-03, wrote a guide on staying safe and avoiding infection for Foreign Policy.

  • Also: A strange consequence of the coronavirus outbreak is that it could dampen global demand for oil for months, Dino Grandoni reports for The Washington Post. Concerns about the respiratory virus could decrease demand by 260,000 barrels per day in 2020, Goldman Sachs noted last week.

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Hotel Washington: A record number of children in Washington State’s foster care system are being housed in hotels instead of group homes or with foster families, Allegra Abramo writes for Investigate West, to the detriment of their mental health and well-being. A recent report by the Washington Office of the Family and Children’s Ombuds revealed that 282 children spent a combined 1,514 nights in hotels and state offices between September 2018 and August 2019, a nearly 39 percent jump over the previous year. Most of these children are the most troubled and vulnerable in the system—those with “sexualized” or “disruptive” behavioral issues, or diagnoses for mental health conditions—and ad hoc care can exacerbate their condition. “They report that being in a transient situation makes them feel no one wants them and they are unlovable,” according to the Ombuds report. “This is just another level of trauma we are inflicting on these children,” director Patrick Dowd told an oversight board earlier this month. State officials blame the situation on recession-era budget cuts that drastically diminished the state’s foster care system.

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Rounding up: The Environmental Protection Agency has once again determined that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup and the most widely used weed killer in the country, is not a carcinogen, Tom Polansek reports for Reuters, in spite of the fact that some U.S. juries have ruled the weedkiller has caused plaintiffs’ cancers. “EPA has concluded that there are no risks of concern to human health when glyphosate is used according to the label and that it is not a carcinogen,” the agency said. The agency’s announcement will surely come as welcome news to the maker of Roundup, Bayer, which faces thousands of lawsuits from users who allege it caused cancer.

  • Also: Kellogg’s is phasing out grains that have had glyphosate applied as a pre-harvest drying agent from its supply chain, but forgot to tell the industry groups for wheat and oat growers, Laura Reiley writes in The Washington Post. “Glyphosate is very safe, and there’s no real alternative,” said Caitlin Eannello, the director of communications for the National Association of Wheat Growers. “If it were to be totally eradicated, producers would probably stop growing. [Kellogg’s] made an announcement without talking to us.”

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Roadmap: In its 2020 report on traffic safety laws in the United States, the nonprofit group Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety says seven states—Rhode Island, Washington, Delaware, Maine, Oregon, California and Louisiana, along with the District of Columbia—have the best laws to reduce traffic deaths, Amy Martyn reports for FairWarning. Twelve states with the weakest or fewest of these laws are South Dakota, Wyoming, Missouri, Montana, Arizona, Ohio, Florida, Nebraska, Nevada, Vermont, New Hampshire and Virginia. More than 36,000 people died in traffic collisions in 2018, the most recent year for which federal data is available. While not a record-high, the number is still well above the record-low of 32,479 deaths in 2011. Martyn notes that experts have blamed distracted driving and the popularity of SUVs for the rise in pedestrian and cyclist deaths.

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Hazardous work: The Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Midwest Ammunition LLC in Hamilton, Ohio, for 19 serious safety and health violations after a fire and explosion killed one employee and seriously injured another. “This tragic outcome could have been avoided by following safety guidelines and ensuring flammable and explosive materials were not exposed to potential ignition sources,” said OSHA Cincinnati Area Director Ken Montgomery. The company faces $211,768 of proposed penalties. OSHA also cited two Alabama contractors, OLA Inc. and Calloway Inc., for exposing employees to excavation hazards after two workers died when a trench collapsed. The contractors face $88,482 in penalties.

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Cut short: Dream Center Education Holdings, a for-profit operator of colleges based in Chandler, Arizona, has paid $411,478 in back wages to 485 employees after an investigation by the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division found the company didn’t issue final paychecks when it shut down in 2019. When the Dream Center imploded last year, $16 million in federal financial aid owed to students disappeared, and Dream Center Education Holdings has been accused of illegally using millions of dollars owed to students for payroll and other expenses.

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Still in the fog: The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is continuing to investigate the January 26 helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his 13-year old daughter, and seven others, the Los Angeles Times reports. A preliminary NTSB report on the crash could be released this week, but a final report could take up to a year. The agency has already said that the helicopter lacked a Terrain Avoidance and Warning System, a safety feature that alerts pilots when they are dangerously close to the ground, but they did not say whether having one aboard would have definitely prevented the crash. Experts told the Los Angeles Times that another likely factor was the heavy fog, which could have caused the pilot to become disoriented.

 

Jessica McKenzie is an independent journalist. Find more of her work at jessicastarmckenzie.com.

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