Lawsuit: Doctor, pharmacy responsible for painkiller death

A Kaneohe mother needed help to deal with chronic pain, and, according to a new lawsuit, it led to her death. Andrea Wells was prescribed the painkiller Fentanyl in a patch to treat her chronic back pain. It’s a powerful synthetic drug in the opiate category.

According to attorney Rick Fried, Wells died after using the second patch. He’s filed a civil suit against her doctor, Jason Florimonte, her pharmacy, Long’s Drugs, and pharmacist Catherine Lau on the family’s behalf. Fried says they all failed to recognize her intolerance to the drug.

“(According to the manufacturer’s warning), for patients who are not opioid tolerant, the amount of Fentanyl in one Fentanyl patch of the lowest strength – and remember, hers was triple – is large enough to cause dangerous side effects, such as respiratory depression and death,” Fried said.

Dr. Bill Haning, from University of Hawaii’s John A. Burns School of Medicine, specializes in pain medication and addiction. He says, much like the nicotine patch, Fentanyl delivers a steady stream of medication over hours or days.

“The patch… is one form of delivery system that is used to overcome some of the problems associated with giving a pill or even giving an injection,” he said. The problem comes, according to Dr. Haning, when the patient does not have a tolerance of the drug.

From a medical standpoint, not just regarding this case, KHON2 wanted to know who is responsible for the patient’s treatment. Dr. Haning says the patient has some responsibility, but there is a chain of command. “The primary responsibility, just as in the military, the commanding officer who ultimately has total responsibility for this, is going to be at the top – it’s going to be at the physician’s level,” he said.

“We just don’t quite understand what the doctor was thinking because these warnings are available to any doctor,” Fried said. “Long’s has the knowledge and expertise to sort of act as a backup and they hold themselves out as doing that.”

As for the damages the family is seeking, Fried said, “I can’t be more specific, because sometimes it comes to me when I’m in front of the jury.”

Jeff Portnoy, Dr. Florimonte’s attorney, says the doctor has prescribed Fentanyl for many patients over the years with no problems, and a judge and jury will have to decide the outcome of this case.

CVS, Long’s Drugs’ parent company, is based on the East coast and was unavailable for comment Monday. KHON2 will continue to try to contact them.

Fentanyl label
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