HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Kailua doctor and a Longs Drugs pharmacist are being sued by a Marine who claims their negligence lead to his wife's overdose death.
32-year-old Andrea Wells died July 31, 2012 -- five days after she began using prescription drug fentanyl. Court documents indicate it is 100 times more potent than morphine.
"We believe this was a totally unnecessary death due to a horrendously excessive dose of the very, very strong fentanyl patch," explained the Wells family attorney, Richard Fried.
The fentanyl patch has been investigated by the Food and Drug Administration since the first generic version of it became available in 2005. The most recent FDA warning was issued in 2012 after numerous deaths and life-threatening side effects were reported nationwide.
"The fentanyl patch contains fentanyl, a very potent narcotic pain medicine. It is only intended for treating persistent, moderate to severe pain in patients who are opioid-tolerant, meaning those patients who take a regular, daily, around-the-clock narcotic pain medicine," indicates the warning about the drug on the FDA's website.
"For patients who are not opioid-tolerant, the amount of fentanyl in one fentanyl patch of the lowest strength is large enough to cause dangerous side effects, such as respiratory depression (severe trouble breathing or very slow or shallow breathing) and death," the FDA statement goes on to warn.
"This drug very clearly is stated in both the FDA warnings and the manufacturer's warnings is not to be administered to somebody who has not been on opioid or narcotic drugs. She was not," said Fried.
The Wells' family is suing Andrea's physician, Dr. Jason Florimonte, who allegedly prescribed three times the typical fentanyl dose.
Longs Drugs and its pharmacist, Catherine Lau, are also named in the suit, in part because Fried says the pharmacy covered over the manufacturer's warning with its prescription label.
"She was not able to read the part that said unless you have been using other narcotic opioid medicines you shall not use this drug," explained Fried.
Fried says furthermore, the pharmacy which was bought by CVS in 2008, has nationally touted their "drug interaction tracker" service.
"They were on The Doctors show and the pharmacist was quoted as saying, 'One of the things we do in store is we have a drug interaction tracker where we actually look at the prescription so that we can catch any potential drug interaction'," Fried said.
Fried says Wells' pharmacist failed to do that, even though Longs Drugs should have known her medication history because she filled her prescriptions from Dr. Florimonte there.
Longs Drugs and the pharmacist, Lau, could not immediately be reached for comment.
"The medication he prescribed for this woman, he has prescribed for literally hundreds of patients over the years with no adverse results," said Jeff Portnoy, who is representing Dr. Florimonte.
Portnoy says Dr. Florimonte, who has been licensed as a family physician in Hawai'i since 2003, has had no other complaints. He currently works for Hawai'i Physicians and Surgeons in Kailua, which is a Castle Health group member.
Portnoy says officials have raised concerns about the amount and combination of medication Wells was taking.
"There was an extensive investigation done by the military which indicates at the of her death, multiple bottles of medications were found in her home and in her bedroom, so there are legitimate questions as to exactly what happened and why," Portnoy said.
At least two families in recent years have successfully sued the manufacturers of fentanyl patches for millions of dollars, but it's unclear if a doctor or pharmacist have ever been held responsible for prescribing or dispensing the drug.
Wells' husband, Daniel, is still in the Marines but has been relocated to San Diego where he's raising their two children with help from her mom.