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Family Sues after Pharmacy Student Dies during Externship

Jun 26, 2014

James Yoo, a 22-year old St. John’s University pharmacy student from Manhattan, died unexpectedly when he came into contact with a very powerful drug during his externship, New York Post reports. His family has filed a lawsuit against St. John’s and Rockwell Compounding Associates in Queens Supreme Court. The suit alleges that Rockwell should not have left Yoo unsupervised around dangerous drugs and that St. John’s did not properly investigate the company beforehand.

Compounding pharmacies make drugs from scratch, allowing them to create medications specially tailored to a customer’s needs. This can be useful for patients who have allergies or need a certain drug in liquid form rather than as a pill, for instance. It is illegal for compounding pharmacies to create a medication with a prescription.

According to New York Post, Yoo started working at Rockwell Compounding Associates last February. The externship is required for a doctorate in pharmacology. The lawsuit alleges that he came into contact with fentanyl four days after he started working; it is frequently prescribed to cancer patients for pain. Fentanyl is 80 times more powerful than morphine and can be absorbed through the skin. As little as 2 milligrams of the drug can be deadly. Yoo collapsed at Rockwell after being exposed to painkiller and died six days later.

The lawsuit filed by Yoo’s family alleges that he should not have been left alone with such a dangerous drug at the start of his externship; this clearly shows that there was negligent training and supervision, the suit alleges.

Additionally, the suit holds St. John’s responsible for failing to perform a proper background check on Rockwell. The company does not have a clean slate. In 2002, Rockwell and owner Steven Consentino were censured and placed on probations for illegally manufacturing drugs. It was alleged that Rockwell was compounding without prescriptions and contaminating drugs.

Yoo was on a scholarship and wanted to work with people in poor countries after receiving his doctorate in pharmacy, his family said to New York Post. They described him as bright and big-hearted. He loved cooking and was a fan of Food Network star Alton Brown. In 2012, he traveled to Bolivia as part of a missionary trip. Yoo’s sister, Elizabeth, told New York Post that his parents are grief-stricken. “I never got to say I love you to him, and that is going to kill me till the day I die…My parents are in complete shock, they did not expect anything like this to happen.”

“My brother did not deserve to die like this,” she said. “I think the school should have looked more carefully at the place.”

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