The Cassidy Law Firm Blog

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Opioid Abuse: Could Your Doctor Be Liable?

When is a patient's addiction to prescription drugs grounds for a malpractice lawsuit?

According to statistics collected nationwide, deaths from drug overdoses have risen for 11 years, tripling since 1990. Most of these fatalities result from overuse of prescription painkillers.

The vast majority of these deaths -- approximately three-quarters -- are believed to have been accidental, while others were suicides or the result of undetermined causes. Many of these cases have led to malpractice lawsuits against doctors and substantial judgments or out-of-court settlements.

Plaintiffs Receive Large Awards for Accidental Injury or Death from Prescription Drugs

In one typical case, a widower received a jury award of $500,000 from his family physician after his wife died accidentally from narcotic painkillers the doctor had prescribed. In another, a patient who suffered brain damage after she stopped breathing as a result of taking prescription medication received $1.9 million.

When May a Doctor Be Held Liable?

In some instances, doctors may be overprescribing, while in others they may be misled by patients who exaggerate symptoms to obtain more drugs. Recent New Jersey cases suggest some of the situations in which a physician maybe be considered to be at fault.

  • Doctors must not knowingly prescribe excess amounts of medication
  • Doctors must be especially vigilant when dealing with patients with a history of abuse.
  • When a patient has a pre-existing medical condition, doctors may be responsible if a prescription exacerbated it.

Doctors Should Participate In New Jersey's Prescription Monitoring Program

New Jersey practitioners are now required to consult the Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) database when prescribing. It can show how much of a drug a patient has received from other doctors and for how long.

While a doctor's failure to consult the PMP database might appear to be grounds for a malpractice lawsuit, currently the statute gives doctors immunity from civil suits for such negligence. The impact of this civil immunity on malpractice cases has not yet been fully litigated.

What Can You Do About Prescription Medication Overdoses?

If you or a loved one has been adversely impacted by opioids or other prescription drugs, your first step after seeking medical treatment should be to consult an expert in medical malpractice law. You may have grounds for a lawsuit, even if it appears that a doctor did nothing more than write a scrip. A skilled lawyer can advise you on whether your doctor met all of his duties to you under current law.

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