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Pharmacies Worry About Liability for Prescription-Drug Abuse

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Pharmacies nationally are closely watching a Nevada case in which car-crash victims and their families are suing stores that sold painkillers to a driver who had been suspected of abusing prescription drugs, the Wall Street Journal reported Oct. 29.

A Nevada controlled-substance task force had alerted pharmacies that Patricia Copening had been buying large quantities of prescription drugs; later, Copening struck and killed a man on a Nevada highway and injured another while driving under the influence of drugs.

The victims and their families sued Wal-Mart and other stores, contending that they failed to use the information they received from authorities to block sales to Copening.

With computerized records and prescription-tracking databases, pharmacies have more information than ever on their customers. But it remains unclear what their legal and ethical obligations are to use the information when a potential threat to the public emerges.

Pharmacies say they are under increasing pressure to prevent prescription-drug abuse. But they claim that a wide range of consequences — including higher insurance costs, more expensive prescriptions, and decisions not to stock certain drugs — could ensue if they are held liable in the Copening case and similar litigation.

Researchers in the Copening case failed to find any evidence that the pharmacies made any notation in their records, and she was allowed to continue buying large quantities of hydrocodone and Soma, a muscle relaxant, from multiple drug stores.

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