The family of a Pierre man is suing Walgreens, claiming its pharmacy mishandled a heart medication that caused an overdose that led to his death last year.
The lawyer for the family of John Stengle, 71, and a longtime advocate for the disabled, filed a complaint Dec. 10 in South Dakota Circuit Court in Pierre. No monetary amount is mentioned in the court documents except the statutory minimum of $75,000. Attorney Ben Novotny of Trial Lawyers for Justice in Decorah, Iowa, said the family is seeking about $10 million.
On Jan. 10, Walgreens asked a judge to move the case to federal court, arguing it has “original jurisdiction,” based on federal law.
Stengle’s widow, Karen, and their daughter, Nicole who lives in the Twin Cities, claim that a prescription for John Stengle for Amiodarone, a drug used to counteract serious arrhythmia of the heart (when the heart beats out of rhythm), was mishandled by Walgreens.
The drug was prescribed — correctly — to Stengle by Sioux Falls cardiologist Dr. Riyad Mohama on Feb. 28, 2018, Novotny says.
The doctor’s notes show he prescribed a 90-day regimen of the drug for Stengle, starting at two weeks at 800mg each day, then down 200mg every two weeks, “tapering off” the drug, and including a refill part way through the 90 days, Novotny told the Capital Journal on Tuesday.
But Novotny said the pharmacist and/or others at Walgreens, gave Stengle too many pills, did not include the fourth two-week period of the regimen, and restarted the regimen part-way through, going back up to the high levels of the drug, which can be toxic if not ingested correctly.
“It’s a tragic thing,” Novotny told the Capital Journal. “People like Mr. Stengle go home and take it exactly as they are told to do — his wife was actually helping him dispense the medication — and little do they know while they are doing that, he’s actually poisoning himself.”
Amiodarone is for serious heart arrhythmia and has possibly life-threatening side effects, experts say.
“It’s one that should be prescribed only with extreme caution,” Novotny said. “It’s a good drug when it’s used appropriately, but can be very bad when it’s used inappropriately.”
Novotny said the family is suing Walgreens and its pharmacy, but not the heart physician that prescribed the drug. The Stengle family alleges Walgreens improperly instructed Stengle and, effectively, overdosed him on the drug, leading to this death.
Stengle’s widow and daughter want to make sure not only their losses are addressed but also “to try to make sure things like this don’t happen to other people,” he said.
Walgreens’ attorneys in Minneapolis did not return calls for comment Tuesday.
Walgreens has also not yet responded to the details alleged in the Stengles’ complaint in state court, while currently seeking a change of venue to federal court.
According to the Stengles’ complaint in state court:
The drug is metabolized by the liver and if “the patient suffers Amiodarone toxicity, vital organs such as the liver, lungs and kidneys may become irreversibly damaged, leading to death.”
Dr. Mohama prescribed a 90-day regimen for Stengle to take the pills at a stepped-down level: two weeks of 800mg; two weeks of 600mg; two weeks of 400mg and two weeks of 200mg.
In its dosage instructions to Stengle, Walgreens did not include the two-week period of 200mg level, which the complaint calls “negligent conduct.”
“Walgreens then filled the prescription with approximately 500 Amiodarone pills, rather than the correct number of approximately 126 pills,” and “refilled the prescription long before the pills ran out” and “restarted the entire heavy-tiered dosing…,” according to the complaint.
“Mr. Stengle’s body, over the course of several months, suffered from Amiodarone toxicity. Over time, Mr. Stengle’s vital organs began to shut down, and he eventually suffered from multi-organ failure.”
“Mr. Stengle suffered a long, painful death witnessed by his wife and his daughter. On Feb. 1, 2019, Mr. Stengle suffered a premature and preventable death.”
Before his death, he “endured severe conscious mental and physical pain and suffering,” for which the Stengles seek damages.
His “untimely” death also deprived his estate “of expected accumulations had John Stengle lived to his normal life expectancy.”
Stengle’s widow and daughter say they suffered the loss of his care and support as well as the expenses of his funeral. Stengle’s funeral was held at Lutheran Memorial Church in Pierre.
According to his obituary published in the Capital Journal, Stengle was born in Des Moines and grew up in Sioux Falls. He lived in Watertown, South Dakota, where he met his wife and their daughter was born. He spent his latter years in Pierre working as an advocate for people with disabilities, as director of The Arc of South Dakota. He was invited to the White House in 1990 to witness the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In 2001, he was hired as executive director of the Housing and Redevelopment Commission of Pierre.
“He was a good, good dude,” Novotny said. “He played guitar in his church band every week. He had a lot of life to live and to give to his community and to his family going forward.”