Are Doctors Liable in Opioid Overdoses?
By Krista Sherinian
As a medical malpractice attorney can attest, there has been lots of concern about the rise in overdose deaths from prescription opiate painkillers in recent years and it is a difficult issue to solve.
These drugs are highly addictive, at the same time they are very effective in treating severe pain. In 2016 alone, over 11 million people experienced injuries from opioid prescriptions. More than one hundred people die every day from opioid-related drug overdoses, accounting for 42,249 fatalities in 2016. Reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show a 14 percent increase in opioid drug overdose deaths in 2014.
According to the CDC, prescriptions for opioid pain relievers have quadrupled since 1999. Addiction and overdose deaths caused by opioid pain medications have created the largest medically-initiated problem that has ever occurred in the United States.
Opioid abuse has become a serious public health issue, and drug overdose deaths are now the leading cause of injury death in the country. Most opioid addictions begin when a patient’s doctor prescribes opiates to manage pain. It is not until the end stages of addiction that patients seek out street versions of their drugs to get high. Although prescription opioids do help to manage some types of pain, long-term use and higher medication doses often result in drug abuse and overdose.
In 2016, 40 percent of all opioid overdose deaths involved a prescription from a licensed physician. Alternatives include use of acetaminophen, NSAID’s, aspirin, pain blocking devices such as a TENS unit or integrative approaches such as chiropractic or acupuncture.
In a recent St. Louis medical malpractice case, a jury awarded a couple $17.6 million in damages for opioid injuries for a physician over-prescribing opioid pain medications. Medical evidence presented in court substantiated that the husband was prescribed close to 37,000 opioid pain pills between 2008 and 2012 for back pain. His daily dosage of 1,155 milligrams was over the CDC’s recommendation of 100 milligrams per day. He was awarded $1.4 million for his injuries, while his estranged wife was awarded $1.2 million. The remaining amount, $15 million, was awarded against the man’s employer and the physician who prescribed the medications as punitive damages.