It may surprise you to learn that you may be in more danger from your prescription pain medication than you would be if you were addicted to heroin or cocaine. Overdoses on prescription opioids kill 40 people in the U.S. each day, which more than the street drugs heroin or cocaine do combined. Addiction and death due to overprescribed opioids are on the rise—and medical malpractice lawsuits based on negligent prescribing practices are also rising. Learn more about medical negligence and prescription painkillers.
Doctors should take specific precautions to avoid overprescribing painkillers.
Not every instance of painkiller addiction or death from a prescription overdose is the result of negligence. There are several things, however, that can indicate that a doctor did not act with the reasonable standard of care that is expected of his or her profession:
- The doctor did not screen the patient for psychological or intellectual problems that could make managing an opioid prescription difficult.
- The doctor did not inquire about previous problems with addiction to drugs or alcohol.
- The doctor did not routinely ask about other medications that the patient was taking–particularly those drugs that could increase the chances of addiction or death, like anxiety medication (benzodiazepines) and drugs for insomnia.
- The doctor did not perform checks to make sure that medication was being taken properly, such as examining pill bottles to see if there are the correct amount in them at the time of the office visit.
- The doctor frequently increased a patient's dosage, at the patient's request, without trying more conservative medications like anti-inflammatories.
- The doctor did not routinely ask patients suffering from extreme pain about suicidal thoughts or ideas.
- The patient was never warned about the significant risk of forming an addiction or dying due to the use of prescription painkillers.
A lack of objective evidence regarding the source of pain is also a problem.
Another indicator that a doctor has been negligence and over-prescribing narcotics is the lack of objective medical evidence that proves a need for strong pain medication. Patients are routinely asked to rate their pain on a level from 1 to 10, with 1 being virtually no pain at all and highly tolerable and 10 being the worst imaginable pain.
A patient that over exaggerates their pain may claim a pain level of "10" at every visit, despite being mobile and in no obvious distress. Patients who are in severe pain often have identifiable symptoms that can be recorded. For example, intense pain is often related to an increased blood pressure and heart rate. A patient may also demonstrate physical weakness when asked to stand, bend, or grip the physician's fingers, depending on the cause and location of the pain.
Doctors should also look for other, identifiable sources of pain. For example, doctors should have back pain patients undergo an MRI to look for collapsed or bulging discs in the spine. Patients complaining of joint pain due to arthritis should have a rheumatologist examine them and make a diagnosis that supports their assertions. A doctor who hasn't verified the source of a patient's pain hasn't taken the appropriate steps necessary to make sure that the patient isn't seeking the drugs due to addiction.
If you believe that a doctor's negligence led to a loved one's painkiller addiction or death, talk to an attorney today to discuss the specifics of your situation (click here for more information).