Can Prescribing Doctors be Liable for Medication Addictions?

Can Prescribing Doctors be Liable for Medication Addictions?The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that prescription drug abuse is a larger problem than ever before, with the rate of opioid pain medication overdose deaths tripling between 1990 and 2010. Opioids are the most addictive types of pain medications, affecting the brain in a manner similar to heroin or cocaine. Pain medication addiction rates have gotten so bad that, in 2002, opioid medications replaced cocaine and heroin as the leading cause of drug overdose deaths.

These statistics, along with countless medical studies, are readily available for physicians, and it is their responsibility to keep informed about prescription dangers and levels of risk. Yet, addicted individuals continuously obtain pain medications with prescriptions from doctors.

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Medical malpractice and pain medication prescriptions

Medical malpractice occurs when a medical professional fails to demonstrate a reasonable standard of care and skill when treating a patient. This standard of care is based on industry standards and the type of treatment that others in the same field of medicine provide to their patients.

A position statement by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) discussed the responsibilities of physicians when prescribing opioid pain medications. The statement explained that, before prescribing highly addictive pain medications, physicians should consider a number of factors, including:

  • The patient’s medical condition
  • The patient’s psychiatric condition
  • Personal or family history of addictive disorders

The treating physician is also responsible for consistent observation of the patient’s response to medication. This requires reasonably scheduled in-office visits to confirm the continued need for medication and also assess the patient for possible addiction.

These guidelines provide industry standards that all physicians have a duty to meet. Failure to follow these recommendations can make the physician liable for initially prescribing the medication or for the continuous authorization of refills once an addiction is suspected. Frequent requests for prescription refills should alert physicians to the possibility of an addiction.

It is not easy to prove a pain medication addiction claim, particularly in situations where patients are addicted, but also in legitimate chronic pain. The physician may argue that the patient’s pain was a legitimate reason to continue providing medication. A skilled Washington, DC medical malpractice law firm will engage expert analysis from professionals in the field to examine factors like:

  • Your medical history
  • Diagnosis of your condition
  • Industry standards for treatment of your injury
  • Your doctor’s medical conclusions
  • Your doctor’s experience with treating your class of injury

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