Medical malpractice

Opioids and a Physician’s Responsibility

January 15, 2020 by James McHugh, Jr.
Physician writing prescription for medication.

Doctors must comply with set standards of care when practicing medicine. As part of these standards, medical professionals should reasonably and responsibly advocate for the best course of treatment for a patient, which includes providing appropriate prescription medication and post-treatment plans.

Currently, there is an epidemic sweeping the nation unlike anything seen before. The opioid crisis has consumed Americans at a deadly pace, particularly those in the Midwest and Northeast. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), death rates associated with opioid abuse have increased by 200% since 2000. Pennsylvania reported 19,652 emergency room visits due to opioid overdoses in 2019.

Enabling the Epidemic

Easy access to opioids is a key component in the enablement of the misuse of opioids. Since 1999, opioid-based pain reliever prescriptions have quadrupled and drug overdoses from prescription opioids rose from 3,442 in 1999 to an alarming 17,029 in 2017. In cases where patients experience mild pain, such as for a common back injury, physicians often prescribed highly addictive and powerful opioid pain relievers.

Malpractice and Opioids

In 2016, a St. Louis jury awarded $17.6 million in a medical malpractice suit against physician Dr. Henry Walden and the St. Louis University Hospital for over-prescribing opioids. Brian Koon developed an opioid addiction after seeking care for a back injury. He was prescribed more than 37,000 opioid pain pills between 2008 and 2012. At one point, his dosage increased from 49 milligrams per day to almost 1,155 milligrams per day, astonishingly higher than the CDC recommended maximum of 100 milligrams.

Overprescribing opioids, prescribing the pills at high doses, and a lack of monitoring by physicians can prove lethal for a patient. A report conducted by medical liability insurer Coverys reviewed 165 patient events and found 41% of claims “cited errors in the screening and prescribing stage of the main management processes, followed by 30% of claims citing errors in the monitoring and management stage.” Patients trust a physician is prescribing the best medicines at safe dosages for their pain, but this is clearly not always the case.

Unfortunately, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports between 8% and 12% of all patients overprescribed opioids will develop an opioid addiction. Commonly overprescribed opioids include:

  • Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet)
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • Tramadol
  • Fentanyl
  • Morphine
  • Codeine

If a physician prescribes you pain medication, how can you know if you are being put in harm’s way? Most patients are unaware of the intricacies of medication dosage, meaning they don’t know the appropriate level of medication for their pain. Instead, they rely on medical providers to prescribe a reasonable dosage. When physicians fail to do so, it can have devastating consequences. In fact, every day 130 people die due to opioid overdoses in America. Prescription opioids come with major side effects in addition to being addictive.

Prescription Medication Errors Attorney

Overprescribing opioids can lead to serious, life-changing consequences for a patient and their loved ones, including addiction and even death. If you or someone you know has suffered an injury as the result of a doctor overprescribing opioid medications, contact the medical malpractice lawyers at Lopez McHugh LLP  to discuss your options.

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