Can a Doctor be Held Liable for a Patient’s Opioid Abuse? A $17.6 Million Verdict Says “Yes”

Can a Doctor be Held Liable for a Patient's Opioid Abuse? A $17.6 Million Verdict Says “Yes”A St. Louis jury awarded $17.6 million in damages to a couple who had filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against a doctor for overprescribing opioid pain medication. The plaintiff, Brian Koon, was awarded $1.4 million and Michelle Koon, his estranged wife, was awarded $1.2 million. The remaining $15 million was awarded as punitive damages against the physician who prescribed the medication and the physician’s employer.

Brian Koon was a mechanical maintenance worker who was employed by the city parks department, and the medical evidence presented during the trial revealed that he was prescribed 37,000 narcotic pain pills over the course of four years (between 2008 and 2012) to manage his back pain. Mr. Koon’s daily dosage of pain medication went from 49 milligrams per day, to upwards of 1,155 milligrams per day, which far exceeds the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendation of no more than 100 milligrams of opioid medication per day.

Doctors play a role in the rampant opioid addiction in the U.S.

In a report on Overdose Death Rates published by the National Institutes of Health National Institute on Drug Abuse, you will see displayed on the front page, a bar graph that tracks the number of deaths from prescription drugs and its steady increase from 2001 to 2014 which represents a 2.8-fold increase in the total number of deaths. The CDC reports that between 2000 and 2014, nearly half a million Americans died from drug overdoses. In 2014, there were 96 opioid drug overdose deaths in Washington, D.C. Opioid overdoses (which includes both the medication and heroin), hit record levels in 2014, with a nearly 14 percent increase in one year. According to the CDC, opioid pain reliever prescriptions have quadrupled since 1999.

In a story on WNDU.com, Dr. Palmer MacKie said that doctors play a role in propagating opioid abuse and misuse. MacKie claims “It is arguably the single largest iatrogenic epidemic — the biggest medical-initiated problem that ever has appeared in the United States.” Many opioid addictions start when the patient’s doctor prescribes opiates to manage pain. A team of researchers at the Mayo Clinic are conducting a study to try to determine how patients develop opioid addictions. The authors of the study urge doctors to think carefully about whether it is appropriate to prescribe opioid pain medication, and consider if the patient has had any history of addiction.

Koon’s story of developing a debilitating addiction from the prescriptions that were given by his doctor is, unfortunately being repeated countless times across the country. We trust our medical professionals to do no harm as they use their training and skills to help cure disease and treat injuries. When a doctor acts in an irresponsible or negligent manner that results in an injury, the patient may be able to take legal action in the form of a medical malpractice lawsuit. An experienced, Washington, D.C. medical malpractice attorney from the law firm of Paulson & Nace, PLLC will consult with you when you have been injured by medical malpractice. Please call 202.930.0292 or use our contact form to find out more.

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