CO woman waits to see if pill mix up harmed embryo


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AURORA, Colo. – Doctors say the early stages of pregnancy are an especially bad time for a pharmacological mix-up where a woman prescribed antibiotics instead is given a powerful drug used in chemotherapy.

Yet a pharmacist at a Colorado Safeway supermarket mistakenly gave Mareena Silva, who is six weeks pregnant, the drug methotrexate last week instead of the antibiotics.

Pharmacists say methotrexate targets the growth of rapidly dividing cells, such as those found in cancer tumors, but in cases of babies developing inside their mother, the drug can't tell the difference. Doctors say the drug taken during the crucial six to eight weeks of pregnancy could affect the development of the heart, the brain, the limbs and cranial facial features.

"These agents don't discriminate between a normal cell dividing or a cancer cell dividing," said Cindy O'Bryant, an associate professor at the University of Colorado School of Pharmacy in Aurora in suburban Denver. "It would not be able to tell the difference of a normal cell, a normal embryo cell, versus a tumor cell and because an embryo is rapidly dividing you're going to see more of an effect there because that's where the drug works."

The drug given out at the store in Fort Lupton, about 35 miles north of Denver, was intended for another woman with a similar name. It is commonly used for psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis, in addition to cancer.

Silva told KMGH-TV in Denver that she took a pill and checked the bottle after becoming sick. She was rushed to the hospital.

"For all this to happen now, it's really overwhelming to know that I have to come home and sit and wait," Silva said in an interview with the station.

Safeway issued a statement that said policies and procedures meant to prevent medication errors were not adhered to, and that the company is redoubling efforts to ensure they are followed. Those procedures include asking twice for the patient's full name and date of birth before handing out medication.

"We have extended our sincere apologies to Ms. Silva and offered to pay any medical expenses incurred as a result of the prescription error," Safeway's statement said. "We understand the anxiety this has caused and the difficulty of Ms. Silva's situation."