A St. John's University student died last year after he was exposed to a "dangerous" drug while working as an extern at a Rye-based pharmacy that since has been suspended by the state, according to a lawsuit.
James Yoo, 22, had been working at Rockwell Compounding Associates for less than a week, his lawyer says, when he came into contact with fentanyl — a potent painkiller that can be transmitted through the skin.
The Queens resident, who was pursuing a pharmacy degree, collapsed at the company's city office and died six days later on Feb. 13, 2013.
"When a kid is there for three or four days, you think he would have someone by his side," said Joshua Gropper, the attorney. He later added in a statement: "While the lawsuit does seek money damages, the primary goal of the family is to try to ensure that the same fate does not befall other young men and women."
The state Board of Regents suspended the licenses of the pharmacy and pharmacist Steven J. Cosentino in January for compounding medicine without individual patient prescriptions. Neither Cosentino nor his company at 350 Theodore Fremd Ave. held registrations as a manufacturer or wholesaler, which are required to produce medicine in bulk.
According to the disciplinary report, Cosentino "committed professional misconduct of practicing pharmacy beyond its authorized scope" and unlawfully compounded and distributed a drug in bulk for "office use" without specific patient prescription.
Cosentino additionally was charged with failing to alert patients who were at risk of using contaminated medicine. In 2002, he also received a censure and reprimand, was fined $7,500 and placed on probation for a year.
Yoo's family is suing the university, the specialty pharmacy and Cosentino in state Supreme Court in Queens. The lawsuit, first reported by The New York Post, was filed in late May.
The complaint says St. John's failed to place Yoo in a safe work environment as part of its required externship program and that the 22-year-old was working at Rockwell "without adequate supervision and training." A background check would have revealed the pharmacy and Cosentino were the subject of investigations, it says.
Compounding is the creation of a pharmaceutical product tailored to individual patients. It can be done in a variety of ways, such as changing medication from a solid pill to a liquid, avoiding ingredients to which the patients may be allergic, or by creating exact doses.
A St. John's spokeswoman said the university does not comment on pending litigation. Cosentino did not respond to a request for comment. A reporter who called the pharmacy's main number was greeted by a recorded message that appeared to have not changed since winter.
"I'm shocked by what happened," said Bob Giaquinto, head pharmacist at Rye Beach Pharmacy. "I think there's more involved than what is coming out. The whole thing doesn't seem to make sense. If he touched a little powder, that shouldn't have been fatal."