On the afternoon of June 4, 2004, a woman named Patricia Copening driving a SUV ran into a delivery-van driver who had pulled over to repair a flat tire on the highway’s shoulder, killing him at the scene. She also hit another man, causing a head and other injuries.
A lawsuit filed by the victims and their families against Wal-Mart, who dispensed a painkiller prescription to Copening, asks whether drugstores must use information at their disposal to protect the public from potentially dangerous customers. State officials had sent letters to 14 pharmacies in the Las Vegas area warning that Copening could be abusing drugs. The letters were issued after a state-ordered prescription audit identified potential drug abusers, including Copening.
According to this story from Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal, Nevada pharmacies have been gathering information about prescription drug use, sending it to the state, and receiving letters from the state advising about potential drug abuse since 1997.
The trial judge dismissed the case, holding that Wal-Mart owed no duty to the victims because the state never told the pharmacies what they should do with information they received. The Nevada Supreme Court should issue an opinion in the case before the end of the year.
The case raises the question of the responsibility of pharmacists to act on information in their possession to protect the public from known prescription drug abusers. The decision is of interest to those of us in Tennessee because Tennesseans have a huge problem with abuse of hydrocodone, codeine, oxycodone an d benzodiazepines, according to a study by Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Tennessee. These drug abusers present a threat to all of us to use our state’s streets and highways.