Physicians play a significant role in opioid abuse, addiction, and death by overprescribing painkillers and when injuries occur, they may be held liable for damages. The number of opioid overdoses has soared to record levels and the nation’s opioid abuse epidemic is only getting worse as doctors inadvertently contribute to patient addiction and misuse.
(Article continues below infographic)
The Opioid Epidemic in America
The National Institutes of Health recently published a report tracking the number of fatalities caused by prescription drugs. Overdose Death Rates shows a steady increase in deaths, approximately half a million, from prescription opioid drugs between 2001 and 2014. 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.
The Mayo Clinic states that most opioid addictions begin when a patient’s doctor prescribes opiates to manage pain. 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. Half of the patients who received opioid prescriptions had another opioid prescription filled within the previous 30-day period by the same physician or another physician.
Liability for Opioid Injuries?
A jury recently awarded a couple $17.6 million in damages for opioid injuries in a St. Louis medical malpractice lawsuit filed against a physician for 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 significantly exceeded 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.
In 2016, over 11 million people experienced injuries from opioid prescriptions. 116 people died every day from opioid-related drug overdoses, accounting for 42,249 fatalities in 2016.