Family sues after St. John’s pharmacy student dies during externship
A St. John’s University pharmacy student was killed when he came in contact with a potent drug — a pain medication 80 times more powerful than morphine — while working unsupervised at a company being probed for unsafe practices, a lawsuit says.
James Yoo, 22, of Manhattan, began working at Rockwell Compounding Associates in February last year as part of an externship required for a doctorate in pharmacology.
St. John’s is expected to place students in programs that are safe and well supervised, says the suit, filed by Yoo’s family against the university and the Rye-based company in Queens Supreme Court.
Rockwell was being probed at the time by the Board of Regents for allegedly compounding medicines without patient prescriptions and contaminating medications.
Four days into his externship, Yoo’s skin came in contact with the drug fentanyl, an autopsy shows.
Fentanyl, typically prescribed to cancer patients for pain, can be absorbed through the skin. As little as 2 milligrams can be fatal.
Yoo collapsed at the site and died six days later.
“For a young man to be left exposed to an extremely dangerous drug such as fentanyl only a few days into his externship program at Rockwell Compounding smacks of negligent training and supervision,” said his family’s lawyer, Joshua Gropper.
He said the school didn’t do a proper background check on the company.
Pharmacists who compound drugs make them from scratch. The process allows them to tailor drugs for patients with allergies, for instance, or create a liquid form of a drug available only in solid doses.
It is illegal to make a compound medication without a prescription.
Rockwell and its owner, Steven Consentino, had been censured and placed on probation in 2002 by the Board of Regents for illegally manufacturing drugs.
Rockwell and Consentino were stripped of their licenses early this year.
“My brother did not deserve to die like this,” said Yoo’s sister Elizabeth, 22. “I think the school should have looked more carefully at the place.”
Yoo was a bright, big-hearted student attending St. John’s on a scholarship and had hoped to work with people in poor countries after receiving his doctorate, his family said.
He had traveled to Bolivia in 2012 as part of a missionary trip.
He loved to cook and was a huge fan of Food Network star Alton Brown.
His parents, who work at a post office and a nail salon, are grief-stricken, said the sister.
“I never got to say I love you to him, and that is going to kill me till the day I die,” she said. “My parents are in complete shock, they did not expect anything like this to happen.”