Jury’s $1.9 million verdict the latest victory in painkiller overprescription crackdown

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by Charles Miller

A jury in Maine has awarded damages of $1.9 million to a woman who overdosed on an excessive methadone prescribed by her doctor. Charlene Whalen alleged in a medical malpractice lawsuit that her doctor, Steven Weisenberg, gave her an overprescription of methadone that was much higher than the recommended amount, causing her to suffer a near-fatal overdose. Jurors agreed with these claims, voting a unanimous 9-0 in favor of the plaintiff.

According to her lawsuit, Whalen was referred to Dr. Weisenberg in 2006 by her primary care physician for the treatment of chronic back pain. Whalen was prescribed a 40-mg dose of methadone— eight times more than the dose recommended by experts.

Less than three days after receiving her methadone prescription, Whalen stopped breathing in her sleep, causing her to suffer brain damage as a result of oxygen deprivation. Whalen’s lawyer stated in court that this brain damage caused her to experience difficulty completing even the most simple tasks.

Opioid overprescription has become a growing concern in the U.S., with patients experiencing addiction, lifelong disabilities, and even death when they are given excessive doses of pain medications such as methadone, morphine, Duragesic (fentanyl pain patches), Vicodin (hydrocodone) or OxyContin (oxycodone). According to a recent New York Times profile, legislatures in Washington and other states have begun to crack down on these practices, crafting strict laws designed to prevent patients from receiving an overprescription of painkillers. The Food and Drug Administration has also issued new regulations on high potency prescription pain medications, requiring the drug companies that market these drugs to train physicians and nurses on how to administer them safely.

While most doctors prescribe these drugs in safe doses, other physicians issue prescriptions that could lead their patients down the road to addition, or put them at risk for overdose or death. So-called “pill mills,” which dispense prescriptions for high potency painkillers without a doctor’s visit, are also a significant problem.

If you or a loved one received a painkiller overprescription and suffered addiction, overdose, or other complications, you may be entitled to take legal action against the doctor who gave you these drugs. The lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson have handled dozens of lawsuits involving medical malpractice related to painkillers, and are available for a free legal consultation about your case. To find out if you are eligible, call us toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or fill out our free online case evaluation form, and one of our representatives will contact you for more information.