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Can overprescribing opioids be considered medical malpractice?

After suffering a serious injury, accident, or after a surgical procedure, there aren’t always a lot of options when it comes to managing pain. There are also many chronic conditions that can cause long-lasting and sometimes debilitating pain for sufferers. For many people in these types of situations, opioid drugs have been one of the few choices available for When Is Over Prescribing Opioid Medication Considered Malpractice? relief. However, opioid drugs carry the severe risk of addiction, and evidence is mounting that doctors may be to blame for over-prescribing these potent and dangerous substances. There are even cases when doctors may face legal liability when patients become over-reliant and addicted to opioid drugs.

Here’s what you should know about medical malpractice and the opioid epidemic, including what opioid drugs are, what role doctors play in addiction, and how you can get legal help today.

Opioid Overdose Deaths on the Rise

The National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention track the use and death rates of many types of drugs, particularly opioid drugs. The latest data from 2017 shows an alarming upward trend in the national death rate due to overdose, particularly in regards to synthetic opioid drugs like fentanyl and related drugs. Over 20,000 people lost their lives in 2016 just due to synthetic opioids alone, and over 64,000 people were lost due to drug overdoses of any kind, a number which has almost doubled over the course of a decade.

There are many types of opioids available in both brand name and generic formulations. Some of the more common names for opioid drugs include:

  • Morphine - Avinza, Kadian, Morphabond, or Roxanol
  • Fentanyl - Actiq, Fentora, Abstral, or Onsolis
  • Codeine – Vopac or Tylenol With Codeine Number 3
  • Oxycodone – Oxycontin or Percocet
  • Hydrocodone Vicodin or Norco
  • Oxymorphone - Opana

All of these drugs are capable of causing an overdose that may result in death. The World Health Organization recognizes three main symptoms of opioid overdose, forming what it calls the “opioid overdose triad.” These symptoms include:

  • Very small or “pinpoint” size pupils
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Decreased respiration (slowed breathing)

These symptoms indicate that an overdose is occurring and represent a medical emergency. If left untreated, opioid overdose can quickly lead to death as breathing slows and then stops. Symptoms can be made significantly worse by interactions with other medications, especially sedatives, or by the use of alcohol.

Physician Responsibility for Opioid Prescriptions

There are no over-the-counter opioid drugs for pain relief available in the United States. All opioids are heavily regulated and must be prescribed by a physician following both the law and while upholding a standard of care that keeps the patient’s best interests in mind.

Doctors are expected to uphold a standard of care to their patients, and that includes managing the medications that they prescribe. There are some cases, though, when the patient’s best interests may take a back seat, especially when the doctor has a financial stake in keeping a patient returning.

So-called “pill mill” doctors have been known to write prescriptions for tens of thousands of doses without regard for the patient’s safety, nor the risks of addiction and potential overdose. These doctors often prey on vulnerable patient populations who may be suffering from long-term chronic pain and addiction, with no regard for ethical guidelines such as the American Medical Association’s Code of Medical Ethics. Unscrupulous doctors may not offer alternative pain management strategies or appropriately follow through and monitor continued opiate use by their patients, violating their duty of care.

Get Legal Help Today

Proving a medical malpractice case for the over-prescription of opioid drugs is a difficult legal challenge, so you should seek an attorney with experience handling cases like yours. Your attorney can investigate your claim, present your legal options, and help you through every step of the process of making your medical malpractice claim in a court of law.

Wayne Wright LLP has been standing up for the rights of those who have been injured by medical malpractice for decades, and we are here to help you and your family begin the recovery process today. To talk to an experienced legal professional about your potential medical malpractice case, call us by phone, use our contact form to send an email, or click the live chat box on this page now and arrange a free, no-obligation consultation with us today.