Chicago Tribune


Sam Roe, Karisa King, and Ray Long

Dangerous drug combinations are a major public health risk, hospitalizing tens of thousands of people each year at a time when the percentage of U.S. residents who report taking multiple prescription drugs has been increasing. Reporter Sam Roe and his colleagues at The Chicago Tribune tested 255 local pharmacy stores (including CVS, Kmart and Walgreens) to see how often they would dispense prescriptions for two drugs that, when taken together, can lead to kidney failure and death. More than half of the pharmacists sold them the medications without mentioning the potential danger. One reason cited for this error: with chain pharmacies promoting ever-faster service, pharmacists race through the legally required safety review and, instead, speedily dispense the drugs. The series also featured a unique collaboration between the reporters, data scientists, and cellular researchers at the Columbia University Medical Center to hunt for other deadly drug combinations; the two-year project identified four drug combinations linked to a heart condition that could lead to a potentially fatal arrhythmia. The newspaper’s investigation led to major reforms in corporate and government policies, and prompted the governor of Illinois to take numerous safety measures.