Hospital administered lethal dose of hydromorphone painkiller, wrongful death lawsuit alleges

by Eric Pearson

In August of 2013, Steven Santora sought medical treatment for stomach pain and was admitted to Merced Medical Center in Merced, California. Later that night, at around 2:30 a.m., Santora died at the hospital, according to a wrongful death lawsuit against the hospital that has been filed on behalf of his surviving young children in Merced Superior Court. Santora was 34.

The lawsuit charges that Santora died as a result of hospital staff administering a lethal dose of hydromorphone, a type of morphine. Representatives for Santora’s family have alleged that hospital staff gave Santora a dose of hydromorphone less than three hours after a previous dose. Then, the staff failed to check on Santora for at least several hours after administering the pain-killing medication, according to the allegations.

A toxicology report lists the official cause of death as “sudden cardiorespiratory arrest” due to “acute hydromorphone intoxication,” and notes that Santora was reportedly allergic to morphine. Denise Santora, Santora’s ex-wife, has said she was with him when he advised the hospital staff he was allergic to morphine, according to news reports.

Hydromorphone belongs to the family of medications known as opioid analgesics (narcotic pain relievers). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent data, opioids were associated with 75% of prescription drug overdoses in 2010.

Overdoses of prescription painkillers (opioid or narcotic pain relievers) have more than tripled in the past 20 years, killing more than 15,500 people in the United States in 2009 alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Prescription drugs linked to causing the most deaths include:

  • Opioids (painkiller) such hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin) and fentanyl (Duragesic) patches
  • Benzodiazepines (central nervous system depressants used to induce sleep and treat anxiety) such as Alprazolam (Xanax), Diazepam (Valium)
  • Amphetamines (central nervous system stimulants used to treat ADHD and similar disorders) such as Adderal, Ridalin, and Concentra

Fighting for painkiller overdose victims

Heygood, Orr & Pearson has represented numerous clients who have been the victims of complications from excessive painkiller prescriptions by doctors or hospitals. In fact, the attorneys at our law firm have handled more cases involving the fentanyl pain patch—a powerful opioid painkiller about 100 times more potent than morphine—than all other law firms in the country combined.

When doctors and hospitals fail to exercise proper care when prescribing opioid medications, they may be putting the health—and even the lives—of their patients at risk. Surprisingly, doctors who prescribe strong painkillers to their patients sometimes have little experience with pain management drugs, causing them to prescribe drugs that are too powerful or in doses that exceed what a patient requires. Sadly, many of these mistakes end in addictions, overdoses, or deaths that could have been prevented.

Patients who are given painkillers that are more powerful than what is needed to treat their symptoms are more likely to suffer an accidental overdose. Some powerful opioid painkillers are only safe for patients who are already used to take similar-acting drugs of a certain dose. Additionally, opioid medications depress the central nervous system and when they are prescribed to a patient taking another mediation that also depressed the central nervous system, there is a risk of the drugs combining to cause serious problems.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of complications from an opioid overdose, the doctor or hospital who prescribed these drugs may be to blame. For more information about opioid painkiller lawsuits and to find out if you are eligible to file a case, contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by filling out the free case evaluation form located at the top of this page.

by Eric Pearson

Eric Pearson is a licensed attorney and a partner at HO&P who handles commercial and personal injury lawsuits. Eric has been selected to the Super Lawyers List, a Thomson Reuters publication.