Medication error ‘melts’ woman’s skin

Khaliah Shaw’s life takes an unpredictable turn after the medication prescribed to her to deal with depression backfires. Her skin was burning from the inside out after first two weeks of its consumption and her sweat glands melted. She was lamotrigine in 2014

Medication error ‘melts’ woman’s skin
(Photo: Provided by Khaliah Shaw via WXIA-TV, Atlanta) Image Courtesy: USA Today

A Georgia woman went to the doctor because she was depressed. This was three years ago. The medication prescribed to her did work initially, but then blisters broke out all over her body.

“Everything was OK,” said 26-year-old Khaliah Shaw, for the first two weeks, until she started experiencing excruciating pain.

“It felt like I was on fire,” she said.

Her skin was burning from the inside out. Her sweat glands melted.

The doctor had prescribed lamotrigine in 2014.

Shaw was diagnosed with Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a rare skin disorder, that is usually caused by reaction to a medication or an incorrect dosage.

“It essentially causes your body to burn from the inside out and you pretty much just melt,” said Shaw.

Medication error ‘melts’ woman’s skin
A lawsuit filed on Khaliah Shaw’s behalf claims she received the wrong dosage of lamotrigine and her pharmacy didn’t catch it. Shaw before taking lamotrigine. (Photo: Provided by Khaliah Shaw via WXIA-TV, Atlanta) Image Courtesy: USA Today

A pending lawsuit claims Shaw received the wrong dosage, and her pharmacy didn’t catch it.

When Shaw looks at pictures of herself from three years ago, she doesn’t recognize that person.

“I didn’t have to have people staring at me or wondering why I look different,” she said. “Three years ago, my life changed forever.”

The syndrome has left Shaw’s previously flawless skin burned and scarred. She is slowing losing her vision. Her sweat glands are gone, and her finger nails will never grow back.

“This did not have to happen. This was not just some sort of fluke in my opinion. This happened as a direct result of somebody’s error,” Shaw said.

Errors happen at an alarming rate

According to the Food and Drug Administration, medication errors jumped from 16,689 in 2010 to more than 93,930 in 2016. That’s nearly a 463% increase.

The numbers come from the FDA Adverse Event Reporting System, or FAERS, a database that contains information on adverse event and medication error reports submitted to the agency. FAERS is a voluntary reporting system, so the numbers of incidents are probably higher.

The FDA said the spike is because of improvements made to its reporting system over the last two years. Pharmacy industry experts believe the numbers also reflect more people are filling more prescriptions than ever.

To reduce errors, some states have tried to limit the number of prescriptions a pharmacist can fill to about 150 per shift.

Matt Perri, a pharmacy professor at the University of Georgia, isn’t sure what the magic number would be, but he believes there could be benefits in setting limits.

Medication error ‘melts’ woman’s skin
Khaliah Shaw broke out in blisters all over her body from what she believes was the incorrect dosage of a prescribed medication. (Photo: Provided by Khaliah Shaw via WXIA-TV, Atlanta) Image Courtesy: USA Today

“If you’re filling (300) or 400 prescriptions by yourself, that’s clearly way too much for one pharmacist,” said Perri. “The idea of setting limits is unappealing on the business perspective, but on a patient safety perspective, it would be a good thing if we had a general idea of where those limits were.”

Jeff Lurey, with the Georgia Pharmacy Association, disagrees. “Patients come into the pharmacy at different times when they need to get medication filled. To put a restriction, I’m not so sure that’s in the best interest of our patients,” he said. “I’m just not convinced that cuts down on (medication) errors.”

Life goes on after the mistake

Shaw spent five weeks in a medically induced coma while her skin slowly peeled off. There is no cure for Stevens-Johnson syndrome, and she could relapse.

“They’re telling me this could happen again, and they’re telling me if it did happen again, that it would be worse,” Shaw said.

According to the lawsuit filed on her behalf, medical bills have already reached more than $3.45 million. Extensive and prolonged medical care are expected to add to those bills.

“We continue to see the same errors over and over. (They’re) typically the result of pharmacists being too rushed, too busy, filling too many prescriptions and the use of (pharmacy) techs that really don’t have the training and the ability that a pharmacist would,” said Trent Speckhals, one of Shaw’s attorneys. “That’s one of the sad things, shocking things about it. It continues to happen at an alarming rate.”

The syndrome was new to Shaw.

“I never heard of Stevens-Johnson syndrome until I was in the hospital with my skin melting off of my body. That’s when I learned what it was,” Shaw said. It’s a lesson she says no one should have to learn. “It’s important to know what’s in your body.

“Be an advocate for yourself. Educate before you medicate,” she said. “Know what the side effects are.”

Source: USA Today