The opioid epidemic has had a significant impact on people throughout the United States, and many blame doctors for the growing problem. Back in the 1990s, when big pharmaceutical companies began creating and selling opioids in large volumes, doctors began prescribing painkillers at an alarming rate. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, prescriptions for opioids quadrupled between 1999 and 2014, while Americans reported pain at a steady, stagnant rate.
Doctors are responsible for showing good judgment when caring for their patients, which includes using discretion when prescribing opioids. If you or someone you loved was overprescribed opioids, and that prescription lead to drug addiction or overdose, the prescribing doctor may be liable.
The Responsibility of Doctors When Prescribing Opioids
Doctors and other healthcare professionals know how dangerous opioids can be. When used in moderation and with patients who show no signs of addiction, they can be helpful, but otherwise, they can create a serious problem. Medical professionals with the authority to prescribe medicines are required to show competent care for their patients. Back in the 1990s, when the opioid epidemic first began, some pharmaceutical companies offered incentives to doctors who prescribed their opioids to patients. Unfortunately, there is always the chance that such behaviors are still encouraged.
Doctors can be held responsible for negligence for the following actions:
- Overprescribing painkillers
- Prescribing the wrong medication
- Failure to notice or respond to a patient’s drug addiction
- Providing a patient with opioids when he or she has previously suffered a drug addiction
Most doctors do intend to help their patients and do not mean to cause them harm. However, when a doctor fails to notice signs of addiction in a patient, refills a prescription too frequently, or provides painkillers when they are unnecessary, the doctor could be held liable for the resulting consequences. These consequences could include addiction to opioids or an overdose. In many cases, opioid dependency could lead to addiction to illegal opiate drugs, like heroin.
Proving Doctor Liability in Opioid Addiction Cases
If you believe a doctor was responsible for your addiction, overdose, or that of your loved one, you must prove a few essential things before the court.
- First, in order for a doctor to be held responsible for the well-being of their patient, they must first have an established doctor-patient relationship with the patient.
- Next, it must be proved that a breach of conduct occurred. If, for example, the doctor did not show the same care that another competent doctor of his or her same skill level would have, then that doctor could be found liable. This mistake must also have caused direct harm to the patient.
Prescribing painkillers is never an exact science, and it can be difficult to gauge appropriate dosages or who might be unfit to take medications. However, as medical professionals, doctors with the authority to prescribe pain medications should know what signs to look for in a potential addict and are required to show care when prescribing medications. Overprescribing medications can be extremely dangerous for the recipient, and in some cases, painkillers are simply not necessary. In some situations, doctors should first look to alternate pain management therapies and opioid alternatives.