Narcotic or opioid painkillers are life-saving medications for thousands of people. When a person is recovering from a surgery or is dealing with chronic pain, the drugs can help patients function and resume a normal life.
However, these powerful painkillers are extremely addictive and habit forming. Just as the medications can vastly improve a person’s quality of life, painkiller abuse can lead to dependence, addiction, and death.
Many people dealing with a painkiller addiction are now wondering if their doctor is responsible for overprescribing the medication or failing to monitor their descent into addiction. While each person bears the brunt of the responsibility for their own actions, is it also possible to hold a prescribing doctor responsible for the consequences of painkiller addiction?
When Is Overprescribing Malpractice?
In order for a doctor to liable for medical malpractice, he or she must have acted in a way which is below the applicable standard of care. This means that the doctor’s actions (or lack of action) must be something that no reasonable doctor in the same position would have done.
In most cases, it is not unreasonable to prescribe painkillers to a person who is in pain. Often, non-narcotic pain killers simply will not work to manage certain types of severe or chronic pain. If the doctor explains the risk of addiction to the patient, and the patient agrees to accept that risk, then it is probably not the doctor’s fault if that patient develops an addiction.
In order for a doctor to have committed malpractice by facilitating a painkiller addiction, that doctor’s negligence must be responsible for the addiction in some way. For example, if a doctor knows that a patient is an addict and knows that the patient does not actually need the medication, but prescribes a narcotic painkiller anyway, that doctor may face some legal liability.
In the same way, a doctor who prescribes a much higher dosage and a much larger number of pills than is medically necessary may be responsible for malpractice as well. Finally, a doctor who facilitates a narcotic habit for years without referring the patient to a pain management program or attempting to wean the patient off the drugs could also be partially responsible for a patient’s addiction.
When a doctor’s decision to prescribe a painkiller is a reasonable one that is necessary to treat a condition and the use of the drugs is appropriately managed, the patient will likely bear all of the responsibility for developing an addiction. Some patients are able to beat a painkiller addiction on their own, and others may need to go through a treatment program to get clean.
A patient who understands that addiction is a known complication of painkiller use, especially over the long term, has a responsibility to watch for signs of addiction and treat it accordingly. Failing to seek help or blaming the doctor instead of getting treatment is not enough to win a malpractice case.
In the rare event that a doctor’s decision to prescribe a narcotic painkiller actually is malpractice, patients still have a very tough case to make. In order for a jury to shift responsibility to a doctor in the case of addiction, there must be a substantial amount of evidence of the doctor’s negligence.
Even though these cases are difficult to win, they are not impossible. In order to even have a chance of receiving a favorable verdict or settlement, an experienced medical malpractice attorney must review the evidence and create the strongest case possible. In a case like this, it is important to have someone on your side who understands both the medical complications and the legal ramifications of prescribing prescription drugs. As both an attorney and a medical doctor, attorney Bradley I. Kramer, M.D., Esq., understands what you and your family is going through, and will fight to get you the compensation you deserve after medical malpractice.
For a free consultation at the Trial Law Offices of Bradley I. Kramer, M.D., Esq., call us today at (310) 289-2600 or use our online contact form to have your case reviewed for free.