The United States is experiencing an epidemic of drug overdose (poisoning) deaths. Since 2000, the rate of deaths from drug overdoses has increased 137%, including a 200% increase in the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids (opioid pain relievers and heroin). The CDC recently analyzed multiple cause-of-death mortality data to examine current trends and characteristics of drug overdose deaths, including the types of opioids associated with drug overdose deaths. During 2014, a total of 47,055 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States, representing a 1-year increase of 6.5%, from 13.8 per 100,000 persons in 2013 to 14.7 per 100,000 persons in 2014.
The above statistics, along with countless medical studies, are readily available for physicians, and they have a responsibility to keep informed about prescription dangers and levels of risk to patients. Yet, addicted individuals and those individuals at high risk for addiction continuously obtain pain medications with prescriptions from doctors when they should not. Similarly, people with no addiction risk are being prescribed opioids and/or narcotic prescriptions at dosages that are likely to cause them to become addicts.
When that happens, a medical malpractice claim can be brought for over-prescribing or misprescribing these medications. Medical malpractice occurs when a medical professional fails to demonstrate a reasonable competence and skill when treating a patient. This standard of care is based on industry standards and the type of treatment that others in the same field of medicine provide to their patients. Thus, malpractice can occur when a health care provider fails to demonstrate reasonable competence in prescribing an addictive medication. The treating physician is also responsible for consistent observation of the patient’s response to medication. This requires reasonably scheduled in-office visits to confirm the continued need for medication and also assess the patient for possible addiction.
Opioid addiction malpractice claims are not easy to prove. The physician may argue that the patient’s pain was a legitimate reason to continue providing addiction medication. Or the physician may argue that the person was likely to become addicted no matter what ultimately happened. However, these cases do have merit. In June 2016, a jury heard the case of Koon v. Dr. Henry Walden. In that case, Brian Koon, a city parks worker, became addicted to prescription painkillers. Over the course of more than three years, Dr. Henry D. Walden prescribed approximately 37,000 pills—at one point 40 pills a day—levels that well exceeded the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control, for run-of-the mill lower back pain. The jury awarded $1.4 million to Koon, $1.2 million to his wife (they are divorcing), and $15 million in punitive damages against Walden and his employer, St. Louis University.
In the event that you or a loved one is a victim of prescription malpractice, contact the legal team at Decof, Decof & Barry to discuss your case. They have decades of experience providing guidance to individuals and families in cases like this.