Prescription Opioid Addiction: Who’s Liable When the Worst Happens?
Today, prescription opioids, the most powerful class of painkiller, kill more people every year than heroin and cocaine combined – 15,000 annually. Who’s at fault for this massive loss of life?
Addiction is a disease, but that doesn’t mean those who develop one have only themselves to blame. Parents may talk to kids about drug addiction, create drug contracts for teens, or address teenage drug use as means of prevention…but what happens when our drug pushers become those that we trust the most with our health? When it comes to prescription painkillers, in fact, the vast majority of patients are not at fault for the crippling dependency they find themselves wrapped-up in. These drugs are just as dangerous as their street counterparts that derive from the same essential ingredients.
War on Pain Leads to Massive Loss of Life
The rise in the prescribing of opioids in the late 1990s and early 2000s coincided with a shift in the thinking of American doctors about the addictive nature of the drugs. Dubbed the “War on Pain,” physicians across the country pointed to research studies touted by prominent pain management doctors alleging that opioids – hydrocodone, morphine, and methadone included – had only a small risk of addiction for long-term use under doctor supervision and virtually no maximum dosages. In short, patients could take the drugs without end and never reach a point where they could not take more of a particular drug. And in time, getting rid of prescription drugs benefited neither the manufacturers, the sales reps (medical doctors), or the chemically dependent patients.
Now we know those assertions were dead wrong.
Hundreds of thousands of patients taking prescription opioids to treat legitimate medical conditions became hopelessly addicted to the drugs. These patients weren’t cooking the pills down or injecting them to get high. They were following doctors’ orders, and those directions are what attorneys began to examine when patients began dying by the thousands.
Negligence is at the Heart of Malpractice
Prescribing a narcotic and not monitoring a patient’s use or response to treatment is a breach of a very basic standard of care. The doctor becomes nothing more than a pill dispensary for the patient; a kind of lab-coated drug dealer. The patient, continuing to follow their doctor’s prescribed care, has no idea the effect the opioid dosage they’re taking is having on their body. By the time they realize what sort of danger they’re in, it’s too late for the patient to stop taking the drug, or control their need for it.
Sadly, I’ve seen firsthand how a doctor’s negligence can lead to a patient’s death. A doctor knowingly prescribed one my law firm’s clients high doses of a prescription opioid, which lead to their addiction and subsequent organ failure and death. The same doctor followed the same deadly course of treatment for a second client, forcing the patient to seek out other opioids to sustain their addiction, which then resulted in their overdose death. A doctor who allows a patient to become addicted to a medication that they prescribe, which later leads to the patient’s injury or loss of life, is at the very least committing medical malpractice.
Holding doctors who don’t monitor patients and do their due diligence to prevent drug-seeking behavior accountable is important to curb wanton prescription of opioids. These medications are dangerous, and it’s up to the medical community as a whole to curb their use. Exploring alternative treatments – from physical therapy to non-euphoric pain relief – creates a more interactive process from doctor to patient. Doctors can feel more in touch with their patients’ progress and patients won’t carry the risk of a life-altering chemical dependency.