The opioid epidemic has claimed many lives and ruined numerous families. When a physician overprescribes these dangerous medications, they could be considered liable for their actions under medical malpractice.
Opioids made their way into physician’s hands in the late 1990s, and the pharmaceutical companies that were making them assured medical professionals that they were safe and non-addictive. Sadly, that was not the case. It is estimated that 130 people die every day in the United States from opioid-related overdoses, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Physicians prescribing these medications today know that they are dangerous, highly addictive, and can lead to permanent disorders and even death when not prescribed carefully.
The Physician’s Oath to Do No Harm
Known as the Hippocratic Oath, physicians must take this oath as one of the first steps to becoming a physician. It is taught thoroughly throughout their medical school career that they must “do no harm.” A physician owes his or her patient a duty of care and must never put their patient at risk while treating them.
Medical professionals who over-prescribe opioids know that they are putting their patients at risk, and while most are negligent, there are some that even overprescribe at a criminal level.
The Most Common Opioids That Are Overprescribed
While any opioid can be overprescribed, there are some more common than others, including:
What Is the Danger of Overprescribing a Pain Killer?
Overprescribing these highly addictive medications can create not only a dependency on them, which means a person cannot function without taking one each day, but it can have adverse effects on their overall health, such as:
- Pain management complications that do not address long-term care needs. Often, overprescribed opioids stem from a patient requiring pain medication and not being able to manage their pain without it. There are numerous ways to manage pain, and a patient should not be on opioids long-term to do so. By doing so, their brain becomes dependent on those opioids. This means they could feel pain more intensely, and their body may not be able to process it.
- Physical side effects and ailments. While these are not life-threatening, they can turn into a life-threatening side effect if they continue. For example, a patient may suffer from dizziness, nausea, vomiting, or constipation. The extensive dizziness or drowsiness could lead to falls, passing out at the wheel, and serious injuries.
- Respiratory depression leading to shortness of breath or death. One common cause of death with an overdose of opioid medications is respiratory depression. This means a person’s breathing becomes slow and shallow and their body doesn’t get enough oxygen, which can lead to hypoxia. Even if a person survives, they could suffer from permanent brain damage after extensive periods of no oxygen.
Is Overprescribing Medical Malpractice?
Malpractice means that a physician has not complied with the acceptable standard of care, including their Hippocratic oath to do no harm. When they overprescribe, and that overprescription causes harm or the death of that patient, they have breached the acceptable standard of care.
The standard of care is determined by the area of medicine and law. Not all physicians can compare to one another exactly, and instead, your physician’s actions would be compared to another physician in a similar field and background. For example, if you have a family physician overprescribing medication to an adult, you will not compare their actions to what a cardiac surgeon would do in a similar situation. Instead, your physician’s actions would be compared to others in that same field of practice. And if other physicians would have taken a different route for treating the patient (e.g., not overprescribing), then it is likely they breached the acceptable standard of care.
Most importantly, physicians know the dangers of overprescribing pain medications. Therefore, any physician who prescribes more than a reasonable dose of that medication has breached his or her duty of care to their patient.
The Physician’s Responsibility for Prescribing Pain Medications
There are no available over-the-counter opioids. Therefore, the only way to get them is either illegally or from a physician. Opioids are heavily regulated in the United States, and a physician that prescribes them must always do so with a patient’s best interests in mind.
Physicians must hold to a standard of care expected by their patients, and that includes ensuring only the necessary amount of pain medications are prescribed. When a patient needs more than a recommended or safe dosage, then a physician should explore alternative pain management options. Likewise, they should not allow a patient to remain on these medications for too long, especially because they are highly addictive.
Sadly, there are what is known as “pill mill” physicians. These physicians do not take a patient’s best interests into account, and they write thousands of prescriptions each year for highly addictive pain medications. Not only do these doctors risk their medical license, but they could face criminal charges for their actions.
You do not have to see a pill mill doctor to be overprescribed medications. Whether you became addicted and had to spend time and money weaning yourself off of opioids, or you suffered a serious injury, you may be entitled to compensation. Physicians have a duty to not put their patients at harm, and overprescribing medications they know will damage them is putting them in harm’s way.
Contact an Attorney Today
If you or a loved one suffered serious injury from a physician overprescribing pain medications, you have the right to hold them responsible and seek compensation. Contact Gladstein Law Firm, PLLC, today to explore your options for starting a malpractice claim. During our initial consultation, we will see if you have a valid malpractice claim and start the process right away. There is no obligation for meeting with our team, so call and schedule your appointment today.