Physicians are generally aware that opioid abuse harms patients and that overprescribing violates applicable standards of care. Physicians can be culpable for opioid addiction if the victim can prove that they prescribed opioids for pain management irresponsibly.
Opioids are addictive
The National Institute of Health (NIH) notes that prescription drug abuse has been a major public health crisis for many years. The rate of opioid abuse in the US is so high that they have overtaken heroin and cocaine as the leading cause of deaths from a drug overdose. Deaths from opioid overdose increased threefold between 1990 and 2010, implying that they cannot be attributed to medication errors.
Doctors are the main cause of the epidemic, with CDC data indicating that 50% of all opioid-related fatalities involve a prescription. Physicians are considered reasonably aware of the risks posed by opioids as this information and the results of several medical studies are publicly accessible.
Doctors Have A Professional Responsibility to Protect Patients
Physicians have a professional responsibility to protect patients from addiction and inform them of the dangers of overdosing. Medical law requires physicians to apply reasonable standards of care that the average healthcare professional would be expected to provide when managing patients.
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), physicians should observe certain safety measures while prescribing opioids for pain management. These factors include the patient’s health, psychological status, and history of addiction.
Physicians should also observe patients’ responses to medication consistently. They should schedule regular visits to the office to assess the patients’ improvement and possible risk of addiction. These are practice standards that all physicians must meet to ensure the drugs are not harming patients. Failure to comply with the standards amounts to medical negligence and presents a strong case for medical malpractice.
Courts Have Held Doctors Liable for Opioid Addiction
In 2016, a Missouri circuit court awarded $17.6 million to a couple whose marriage had been destroyed by opioid addiction. The court found the plaintiff’s doctor culpable of medical malpractice by overprescribing opioids for pain management. The court awarded the plaintiff, $1.4 million while his estranged wife got $1.2 million. The remaining $15 million accounted for punitive damages aimed at the physician and his employer.
The plaintiff sought care for back pain and was prescribed a heavy dose of highly addictive opioids. For four years, the doctor prescribed a daily dose of narcotics of between 49 and 1,555 milligrams. This dose was far above the average of 100 milligrams recommended by the CDC guidelines.
Eventually, the plaintiff developed a dependence on the opioids and checked into a drug rehab center. The addiction had a heavy toll on his marriage due to depression and other side effects of the drugs. The addiction cost him his marriage and employment.
This case offers hope to all victims of opioid addiction resulting from over prescription by primary care doctors. If the victim can provide sufficient prescription and circumstantial evidence of physician negligence, a good medical malpractice lawyer will help him or her get an award for the damages.