Opioid Overprescription by Orthopedic Surgeons Fueling Epidemic of Painkiller Overdoses, Study Finds

by Michael Heygood

The overprescription of powerful opioid painkillers by orthopedic surgeons has contributed to an epidemic of prescription painkiller overdoses in the U.S., according to a new study by the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (JAAOS). Researchers in the study found that orthopedic surgeons in the U.S. prescribe opioid painkillers at a rate far higher than doctors in other countries, making them one of the biggest groups of U.S. physicians who prescribe opioids to their patients.

Experts say that there are a variety of reasons why orthopedic surgeons might prescribe painkillers to their patients. Patients who experience hip, shoulder, elbow, wrist, or ankle fractures may receive opioid prescriptions from their doctor in order to deal with pain during their recovery from broken bones. Patients may also be prescribed painkillers in order to treat pain during recovery from orthopedic surgery.

In many cases, however, orthopedic surgeons may prescribe opioid painkillers in cases where they may not be necessary to treat pain. According to the JAAOS study, doctors in the U.S. prescribed painkillers to 85% of patients with hip fractures and 82% of patients with ankle fractures. In contrast, doctors in The Netherlands gave prescription painkillers to just 6% of patients with ankle fractures and 0% of patients with hip fractures, opting instead to prescribe non-opioid painkillers such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Aspirin or ibuprofen.

The willingness of U.S. orthopedic surgeons to prescribe opioid painkillers has made them one of the most likely groups of physicians to prescribe these drugs in the U.S. According to the JAAOS study, orthopedic surgeons 7.7% of all opioid painkiller prescriptions in the U.S., making them third behind primary care physicians (28.8%) and internists (14.6%) in terms of the number of opioid painkiller prescriptions issued.

The high number of prescription painkillers issued by orthopedic surgeons has contributed to the epidemic of opioid overdose in the U.S. over recent years, the authors of the JAAOS study write. Unnecessary painkiller prescriptions increase the likelihood that patients may become addicted or dependent on these medications, increasing their risk of an overdose.

Prescription Painkillers and the Epidemic of Opioid Overdoses

Although these drugs can play an important role in treating some patients with pain, when they are not properly prescribed by a physician, painkillers can put the health and even the life of a patient at risk. Doctors who prescribe these medications indiscriminately to their patients have also played a role in the epidemic of prescription painkiller overdoses in this country.

When doctors or hospitals give opioid medications to their patients without exercising proper care, they are putting the health—and even the lives—of their patients in jeopardy. Patients who are prescribed narcotic painkillers that are stronger than what is needed to treat their symptoms, or who are prescribed more pills than necessary, face a greater risk of suffering an accidental overdose or becoming addicted to these medications.

The marketing practices of drug companies who manufacture opioid painkillers have also had a disastrous effect on the lives of patients who have suffered addictions or overdoses because of these drugs. Abuse of prescription opioids, such as the powerful painkiller OxyContin, fueled a surge in overdose deaths, which quadrupled from 4,030 deaths in 1999 to 16,917 deaths in 2011, according mortality data collected by the CDC. In 2012, the latest year available, deaths from prescription painkillers “dropped” from 2011’s record high to 16,007, according to the CDC.

Heygood, Orr & Pearson and Opioid Painkiller Lawsuits

Patients who are the victims of addiction or overdose from opioid painkillers may be eligible to file a lawsuit against the drug’s manufacturer, as well as the doctor or hospital who prescribed the medication. The first step in filing a lawsuit is to secure the help of an experienced attorney who can guide you through your case.

The lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson have represented numerous individuals who have been the victim of complications caused by opioid painkiller prescriptions. Our law firm has handled more cases involving the fentanyl pain patch—a powerful opioid painkiller that is about 80-100 times more powerful than morphine—than all other law firms in the country combined.

If you or a loved one has been hurt by opioid painkiller medications, the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson are ready to help. For more information about filing an opioid painkiller lawsuit and to learn if you may be eligible to file a case, contact our law firm by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by following the link to our free case evaluation form located on this website and answering a few simple questions about your case.

by Michael Heygood

Michael Heygood is a licensed attorney and partner at HO&P who focuses on insurance and corporate litigation, and other civil arenas. Michael has been named multiple times to the Super Lawyers List.