Can Pharmacy Technicians Go to Jail for Medication Errors?
By Hannah McSweeney CPhT
Can a pharmacy technician go to jail for something that would fall onto the supervising pharmacist for responsibility in most states? This is an entirely gray area. It is case by case and depends upon many factors such as state-by-state laws and qualifications/oversight of the acting pharmacy technician. This could be a question that has passed through your mind if you have ever made a mistake at the pharmacy, no matter the setting or the severity of the act. Although it is rare, pharmacy technicians can go to jail or prison for a medication error, depending on the state and circumstance.
In Ohio, Senate Bill 203, or “Emily’s Law” was passed after a two-year-old girl was given a lethal dose of sodium chloride mixed in with her chemotherapy in 2006. The sodium chloride bag, which is normally less than 1% and in pre-prepared commercial bags, contained a concentration of 23.4% and was compounded by a pharmacy technician at the hospital. The medication error went unchecked by the pharmacist and ended up causing a severe brain injury to the point where Emily was declared brain dead and put on life support within an hour of the infusion. The supervising pharmacist, in this instance, was sentenced to 6 months in prison.
After this tragic accident occurred, Emily’s Law was passed in 2009 in Ohio and “...specifies standards for the qualification of pharmacy technicians and implements criminal penalties for "unauthorized" pharmacy-related activities unless a person is a pharmacist, pharmacy intern, or qualified pharmacy technician. Emily's Law also implements criminal penalties for managers and employers of non-qualified pharmacy technicians.” You may think criminal charges should only fall onto the supervising pharmacist; however, engaging in unauthorized pharmacy activities as a pharmacy technician in the state of Ohio can result in charge of anything from a second-degree misdemeanor to a fifth-degree felony.
In 2006 when Emily Jerry passed away, Ohio lacked a licensing or certification requirement for a pharmacy technician position. Along with that, a lack of training and knowledge was sure to follow. Because of what happened to little Emily, it is now causing states like Ohio to reconsider the qualifications and training for pharmacy technicians to prevent such deaths from reoccurring. Although it may be a little harsh in the charges, it is necessary to stop these preventable deaths caused by untrained hands.
Not so Cut and Dry
Despite there being a lack of a direct consequence for negligence caused by pharmacy technicians in other states, with blame falling solely on the supervising pharmacist; there is still caution to be taken. Not only are we indirectly dealing with the lives of other people, but the pharmacist in charge and the company you are working for are well within their legal rights to sue you, the pharmacy technician. Your employer will take the brunt of the hit if a patient injury or death occurs due to a medication error. However, do not take this lightly and let something as preventable as medical negligence cost you something as important as your job, the life of the patient, and potentially more.