FAQ: Medical Malpractice Concerning Narcotic Pain Medication Addiction

FAQ: If a patient gets addicted to a narcotic pain medication, who’s fault is it and could it be considered medical malpractice?

To figure out if a patient’s addiction to pain medications constitutes medical malpractice, you have to prove that the patient’s doctor was negligent. This means that the doctor did not act reasonably in treating the patient.

Opiate overdosing is a growing problem in the United States. As a result, the number of addicted people continues to increase throughout the country as do opiate-related suicides and deaths.  In Montgomery County, PA, where Positive Physicians Insurance Company is based, the death toll by opiate overdosing increased by 123% this year.  

Many times the doctor gets the blame for having set patients on that course. When a patient suffers an injury as a result of a prescribed medication questions will always arise as to whether the medication was needed, whether a proper history and physical exam were conducted or whether the physician properly documented the encounter. Any failure on the part of the physician can create the opportunity for liability.

Plaintiffs who overdosed have sued doctors successfully. In April 2012, a woman was awarded $1.9 million after she sued her family doctor. She claimed he overprescribed her methadone, leading to brain damage after she stopped breathing.

Pain specialists are often in short supply so all practitioners need to be very well-versed in the guidelines of how to treat pain. The following are some Best Practice guidelines if you have to prescribe opiates:

  • Register and participate in your state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP)
  • Have patient’s sign a contract agreeing not to abuse his prescriptions (Such contracts reinforce a doctor’s right to terminate care if patients break promises they have made or use the drugs inappropriately.)
  • Conduct regular monitoring of patients on prescription medication
  • Physicians should share addiction risks of drugs with patients
  • Make sure to thoroughly document each patient encounter

For more information about protecting your practice from medical malpractice claims, visit our blog at http://positivephysicians.com/blog

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