Can I Sue My Physician if I Become Addicted to Painkillers?
Feb. 21, 2017
Following an injury or operation, physicians often prescribe patients opiate painkillers like oxycodone, methadone, and hydrocodone. This category of painkillers is highly effective, enabling patients to recover with minimal pain and hopefully, help them get back to work and their everyday lives faster. However, these medications come with a major side effect: addiction. Opioid addiction is a growing epidemic in the U.S., and many recreational opioid users started out as patients with valid prescriptions.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the number of prescriptions for opioids has nearly quadrupled and overdose deaths from prescription opioids have more than quadrupled since 1999. This rise in prescriptions for incredibly strong painkillers has occurred even though Americans are not getting injured more often or experiencing any more pain than before 1999. This means physicians are prescribing opioids more often than they used and despite the existence of other pain management techniques. The question then arises: are physicians over-prescribing painkillers and responsible for their patients’ addictions? In some situations, the answer may be yes. If a patient is injured by becoming addicted to opioid painkillers or overdosing and can establish their doctor was negligent in prescribing this medication, the patient may be able to win a medical malpractice claim.
Medical Malpractice Based on Opioid Prescription
Physicians often correctly and appropriately prescribe opioids to patients. Simply prescribing a potentially addictive painkiller is not a sign of negligence. However, there are situations in which prescribing an opioid to a patient is inappropriate, irresponsible, and deadly.
A few examples of when physicians should think twice about prescribing opioids include when:
A patient has a history of addiction;
Less addictive forms of pain management are available and appropriate for the patient;
A patient’s recovery should include a reduction in pain yet the patient reports consistent or increased pain; or
A patient has been using opioids for a significant duration and the physician has never referred them to a pain management specialist.
Proving Medical Malpractice
To prove that a physician is liable for a patient’s injuries that were caused by prescription opioids, the patient would need to demonstrate all of the elements of negligence:
The physician owed the patient a duty of care;
The physician breached that duty of care;
This breach cause the patient harm; and
The patient suffered a compensable harm.
It is clear that physicians owe their patients a duty of care, which means providing the degree of care and skill of the average healthcare provider in a similar practice and region. The difficult task of an opioid-based medical malpractice claim is proving a breach of this duty.
For an injury suffered due to an opioid addiction or overdose, the patient will likely seek to prove they were over-prescribed the painkillers. This could mean the physician prescribed too high of a dosage, too many pills at a time, or refilled the prescription for too long of a duration. A patient will need their own medical records as well as a medical expert to support their argument.
Contact a Florida Medical Malpractice Attorney
If you are suffering from an opioid addiction or overdosed because you were over-prescribed by your physician, contact the experienced medical malpractice attorneys at Oldham & Smith. We can investigate your situation to determine if you have a strong case against your medical provider and help you determine if filing a claim is the right move for you.