Are Doctors Liable for Patient Opioid Addiction?

pain management malpractice doctor liability medical lawsuit

If you are recovering from a painful injury or a surgery, chances are you will be prescribed a narcotic such as an opioid pain medication. While these medications are effective in alleviating discomfort and pain, overuse, over-prescription, and addiction can easily happen, which leads to cases of pain management malpractice.

Keep reading to learn if your doctor can be found liable for your opioid addiction.

Types of Opioids Prescribed By Doctors

Before we can understand a doctor's liability in opioid addiction, let's break down the different types of opioids prescribed by doctors. Opioids are used mostly for medical purposes to treat patients dealing with pain from an injury, surgery, chronic pain, breathing complications or cases of constipation and diarrhea. 

Whole opioids typically successful alleviates pain and discomfort, this prescription medication can also be highly addictive. The illegal and also highly addictive drug heroin is also an opioid. Over the years, there have been many types of prescription opioids developed including Vicodin, Oxycontin, Tylox, Percodan, Percocet, Demerol, and Palladone (which in 2005 was taken off the market). 

Side Effects of Opioids

The use of opioids can lead to devastating results, and because of this, there has been a rise in medical malpractice claims connected to opioid prescriptions. This is because it's really easy to get physically dependant on opioids. This kind of dependence can lead to withdrawal symptoms that are serious such as vomiting, irritability, and nausea. 

Other withdrawal symptoms can include delirium, hallucinations and frequent confusion. The inability to properly perform basic tasks at work reduced awareness of immediate dangers you can face from walking or driving.

You may also suffer hypoventilation, where you can't properly breathe. This can lead to death and happens often when opioids are mixed with other substances. 

Can a Doctor Be Held Liable for a Patient's Opioid Abuse? 

Absolutely and there's a 17.6 million dollar verdict to prove it. A St. Louis jury just awarded this amount of money to a couple who filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against a doctor that overprescribed an opioid pain medication. The plaintiff got 1.4 million, while his wife got 1.2 million, and the rest was punitive damages against the doctor and his employer. 

The evidence from this trial proved that the plaintiff was prescribed 37 thousand narcotic pain pills between 2008 and 2012 to help alleviate back pain. The daily dosage of medication went from 49 milligrams a day to 1,155 milligrams a day. This exceeds the recommendation from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention of no more than 100 milligrams a day.  

Recovering Compensation in Your Opioid Medical Malpractice Claim

Just like you would with any other medical malpractice claim, you need to show that your doctor failed to treat you with professional standard care. For an opioid case, this typically involves showing that you didn't need opioids or that you were prescribed more opioids than needed, and or you had an adverse medical reaction.

To increase your chances of winning your opioid medical malpractice case, you will want to make sure you can prove that while treating you, your doctor deviated from standard care. You should also be able to prove that you suffered harm or injury due to this failure.

You will need to show the result of these damages which can be in the form of work you lost, health problems from this negligence and or the toll this took on your family. 

How Common Is Pain Medication Addiction?

Opium is in most narcotic pain medications. Opium is also the natural ingredient in the street drug heroin, which is incredibly attractive. Once a patent becomes addicted to pain medication, it becomes really hard for them to stop taking this drug. 

A lot of people can eventually break their addiction to pain medication with help. As it is hard to do on your own. Which is why some patients will even turn to alternative otherwise legal drugs as an attempt to self medicate. 

This "Opioid Crisis" has affected communities nationwide. If a patient develops an addiction to a narcotic pain medication this could be a case of pain management malpractice.  

Understanding the Opioid Crisis 

In the late 1990s, the pharmaceutical companies assured doctors that patients will not get addicted to opioid pain relievers. Due to this reassurance, healthcare providers started prescribing opioid narcotics to relieve pain more than before.  

Due to this increase in the prescription of opioid medications, this turned into a spread of misuse in both prescription and non-prescription opioids. It was around this time that it became clear this medication was incredibly addictive.  This became known as the "Opioid Crisis" and or "Opioid Epidemic." 

When It's Time to Stop Using Your Opioid Medication

Despite the risks of opioids such as addiction, abuse, and accidental overdose, this prescription medication is still the most effective way to treat short-term and or acute pain. You might get prescribed opioids top get through a few days in intense pain after a traumatic injury or surgery. 

Opioids are also often used to treat cancer-related pain, and often chronic non-cancer pain when all other treatments have failed. If you are taking this medication for less than two weeks, you should be able to easily stop before or as soon as your medication runs out. If you are unsure of when you should stop taking your opioid prescription, be sure to consult with your doctor. 

When it is time to stop taking your opioid medication, ask for your doctor's help. You do not want to stop taking your opioid medication cold turkey on your own, as this can result in serious consequences.

Your doctor should be able to create a withdrawal plan for you, called a taper. This will gradually reduce the amount of medication you take. Otherwise, opioid withdrawal is dangerous with severe symptoms. 

Depending on your prescription it could take weeks or even months to safely reduce your dose and get you off of your opioid prescription. 

What Is Pain Management Malpractice?

Pain management malpractice can come from various actions or inactions from a health care provider. The main cause of pain management malpractice tends to boil down to medical negligence. 

In most pain management malpractice cases, the court will have to define medical negligence. This means you will need proof that your healthcare provider did not exercise the degree of skill and care they should be practicing with. 

Proving a Physician Was Negligent

To prove that your physician was negligent for a case of pain management malpractice, you will need your lawyer to get all of your medical records. These records are to show the treatment in question. 

Your lawyer will almost always hire a medical expert who will look over these records to see if the doctor was negligent. 

This qualified medical expert is typically a physician who teaches or practices in the same field as the defendant. 

Proving a Patient Was Overprescribed Pain Medications

To prove that a physician was negligent in your claim, your medical expert will likely consider your diagnosis, your medical history and any complaints you had about pain and discomfort. The medical expert will also review your doctor's experience in treating conditions similar to yours, your doctor's findings, as well as what medical literature says on how to treat your condition. 

Thee are other aspects the medical expert will look into to prove medical pain management malpractice. This includes your history with problems with narcotics and prior addictions.  

Previous Addictions or Problems With Narcotics

Let's say you have a minor back injury like a low back or lumbar strain. If your doctor prescribed you OxyContin (oxycodone) to deal with that pain, and ten years earlier you beat a heroin addiction and told your doctor that could be malpractice.

You don't need to look in a medical textbook that prescribing OxyContin to a former heroin addict is a bad idea. Not to mention, a lumbar strain is not considered to be a serious injury. In this case, the doctor might be found negligent, but only if you had revealed your previous heroin addiction. 

Long-Term Use and No Pain Management Referral

Another example of pain management malpractice could be if you suffered a painful herniated disk and had surgery, but still were suffering serious pain. Let's say your doctor prescribed you Percocet. Then five years after the surgery you are still dependent on the narcotic, addicted to Percocet, and you are still suffering severe pain. 

Maybe you have even tried to break this addiction several times, trying to take non-narcotic pain medication, but still no luck. You might be wondering if a case like this is considered to be pain management malpractice. 

In this case, medical textbooks might find that if the doctor is unable to reduce or cure your pain after several years, they should refer you to a pain management specialist. This is a physician who specializes in treating severe and or permanent pain without using narcotic pain medications. 

These specialists might also help patients break addictions. In cases like this, the medical expert would have to give an opinion if the doctor's failure to refer the patient to a pain management specialist is or isn't negligence. If it's found to be negligence, then you would have a strong malpractice case against this doctor. 

Consult With a Medical Malpractice Lawyer Today

If you feel that you are a victim of pain management malpractice and your doctor should be held liable for your opioid addiction, talk to a lawyer who specializes in medical malpractice today. With the opioid crisis, this type of malpractice is becoming more and more common, and you are not alone.

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