A Burnaby man is lucky to be alive after being given the wrong prescription medication at his pharmacy.
Shelly Norton says her husband Barry is still in the ICU at Burnaby Hospital and is sharing his story in the hopes of preventing anything like it from ever happening again.
It happened on Saturday, when Barry went to pick up antibiotics for a dental procedure from a Shopper Drug Mart on Kingsway.
He was given a small cup of pills at the pharmacy, and told to take them at the counter, Shelly said.
Barry thought that was odd, and asked the pharmacist about it, but was told by a second pharmacist to take the medication, Shelly said.
He took the pills, then walked home.
Not long afterward he got a terrifying phone call. Barry, a contractor, records all his calls for business and captured this exchange:
Pharmacist: “I need you to go to the hospital right now.”
Pharmacist: “You need to go to the hospital.”
Barry: “The hospital?”
Pharmacist: “Yeah, she gave you the wrong medication.”
It turned out that instead of taking antibiotics, Barry had taken a powerful slow-release morphine opioid used to treat cancer patients and which can be deadly in large doses.
According to the manufacturer, it is used to treat severe pain over long periods, and patients are warned that chewing the capsules can lead to a fatal overdose.
“The ICU doctor said if he had sat down and had a beer, it would have killed him,” said Shelly.
“What if he didn’t answer his phone? Or he got on a plane? Who knows what would have happened.”
At the hospital, Shelly said it wasn’t until Barry had been in hospital for about four hours before the drug’s most serious effects took hold.
“He said he had to use the washroom, so he got up to go into the washroom in the emergency and he didn’t come out, so they had to go in, and he’d collapsed, and they had to bring him back to bed by a wheelchair,” she said.
“He doesn’t remember anything after that.”
The pharmacy’s owner directed questions to Loblaws
Global News has requested comment from Shoppers Drug Mart and Loblaws.
The College of Pharmacists of B.C. is investigating the incident, and told Global News pharmacists are required to positively identify patients when dispensing any medication.
Shelly says that clearly didn’t happen, and she believes the only reason the pharmacy caught the error was because the patient who was supposed to get the opioid arrived shortly afterward.
“No one says directly, ‘I’m sorry our industry almost killed you’,” she said. “I’m afraid no one’s going to be held accountable.”