Three Ways Narcotic Prescriptions May Be Medical Malpractice
We have written before in this space about whether doctors can be held liable for a patient’s opioid (narcotic) addiction. The answer is that they can, but like any action taken by a medical professional, the circumstances must meet certain criteria to be able to be considered medical malpractice. Those criteria are:
- The person against whom medical malpractice is claimed must have a duty to the person claiming it. This is an easy one, because the doctor-patient relationship creates that duty.
- The duty must have been breached; the doctor must in some way have violated or failed to fulfill that duty to the patient.
- The patient must have suffered some harm.
- The harm suffered by the patient must have been directly caused by the doctor’s breach of their duty.
- There are damages due to the harm the patient suffered.
So, if a doctor treats you, you have a relationship that creates a duty. And if you have an opioid addiction, you have almost certainly suffered harm and damages. The challenge lies in proving that the doctor breached that duty of care in some way, and perhaps in linking the breach of the duty with the harm you have suffered.
How Do Doctors Breach Their Duty of Care When Prescribing Opioids?
Obviously, it is part of a doctor’s job to prescribe medicine for their patients. And obviously, it is sometimes appropriate to prescribe narcotics, or those drugs would not be available. So when does a doctor prescribing a legal medication become a breach of their duty as a physician? In general, there are three situations in which a doctor’s prescription of opioids may cross the line into medical malpractice.
The first is prescribing opioid medications when those medications are not indicated. This can happen in a couple of ways. The doctor might prescribe opioids to a patient who, if the doctor took (or read) a proper health history, has a history of drug addiction or drug-seeking behavior. Alternately, the use of opioids might have been appropriate initially, but the doctor might have continued prescribing them for longer than they were needed, leading to an addiction.
The second way in which a doctor prescribing opioids might constitute medical malpractice is prescribing the incorrect medicine or an excessive dose of the correct medicine. Not only can this lead to addiction in some cases, it can lead to a dangerous overdose in others. That overdose could, of course, cause hospitalization or even death.
The third situation in which opioid prescription could be medical malpractice has to do with monitoring. It is irresponsible of a physician to give a patient a prescription for narcotics and to send them on their way. In order to address unanticipated problems with the medication or prevent withdrawal issues, doctors need to monitor their patients both while they are on medication and as they are coming off of it.
Which Opioid Medications Are Most Overprescribed?
The good news is that as awareness of the opioid epidemic has grown, overprescription of opioids has decreased over the past several years, from about 255 million prescriptions in 2012 to over 168 million in 2018, according to the CDC. Even so, that’s a prescribing rate of 51.4 per 100 people—over half the population.
The names of some of the most overprescribed medications will be familiar to you. They include:
- OxyContin (also called oxycodone)
- Vicodin (also called hydrocodone)
- Duragesic (also called fentanyl, a transdermal patch)
- Dilaudid (also called hydromorphone)
While the decreasing number of opioid prescriptions in the United States is good news, it is cold comfort for the millions of Americans for whom these medications were irresponsibly prescribed. If you or a loved one has suffered from a narcotic addiction, you know the devastation it can cause. Opioid addiction can lead to job loss, financial ruin, legal problems, further health problems, and the destruction of family relationships. It is hard to overstate how much damage can spring from negligent behavior on the part of a prescribing doctor.
That’s why it is important to hold those doctors who are negligent, or even reckless, accountable for the pain and suffering they cause—especially when patients trusted them to offer help. If you believe that your doctor improperly prescribed narcotics for you or a family member, or didn’t provide proper monitoring, you should contact an experienced Oregon medical malpractice attorney for a consultation.
An experienced medical malpractice attorney can help evaluate your case and advise you if you have a claim worth pursuing. If you do, the attorney can help you file the claim in a timely manner so that you don’t lose the right to any compensation you may be entitled to. We invite you to contact Huegli Fraser today to schedule a consultation.
The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact a qualified medical malpractice attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with a competent medical malpractice attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.