Patients who are prescribed opioid painkillers to treat chronic or severe pain may be at risk of poisoning or overdose due to the irresponsible way these drugs are sometimes handed out by doctors. Over the last decade, prescriptions for opioid painkillers have tripled. This, in turn, has led to an increase in the numbers of deaths caused by these drugs.
In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that nearly 42,000 patients in the U.S. died that year as a result of overdoses caused by the use of opioid painkillers. About 40% of these overdoses involve prescription opioids, more than five the number of annual deaths just two decades before.
Some of the most commonly prescribed types of opioid painkillers include:
- Vicodin (sold generically under the name hydrocodone)
- OxyContin (sold generically as oxycodone)
- Dilaudid (sold generically under the name Hydromorphone)
- Duragesic or fentanyl pain patch (sold generically under the brand names Sandoz, Watson and Mylan)
Complications Linked to Prescription Painkillers
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. Some physicians place patients on high doses of painkillers when it is unnecessary, placing them at risk of an overdose.
In other cases, patients are treated with these drugs for longer than necessary, increasing the likelihood that they may become addicted. Many times, patients are not a proper candidate for a particular opioid painkiller, but it is prescribed to them any way, or they suffer from other conditions such as sleep apnea and pulmonary problems which make the use of opioid painkillers very dangerous.
Patients who are switched from one powerful painkiller to another by their doctor—a practice known as opioid rotation—may also face serious health risks, either from an interaction between the two drugs, or because the new medication is much stronger than the old one. Although state lawmakers and federal health officials have passed new laws to try and curb the epidemic of painkiller overdoses, many doctors continue to prescribe these medications in excessive doses, jeopardizing the lives of their patients.
Prescription Painkillers and the Opioid Epidemic
Over the last two decades, the aggressive marketing of opioid painkillers by the pharmaceutical industry has led to an epidemic of abuse, addiction, and overdoses caused by these drugs. The CDC estimates that tens of thousands of Americans are killed every year as a result of overdoses involving opioids.
The increased use of prescription painkillers starting in the 1990s was based on two assumptions: that doctors needed to take more aggressive measures to treat patient pain and that opioid painkillers were the right tool for this job because their risk of abuse or addiction was low. Pharmaceutical companies such as Purdue Pharma helped fuel this belief by helping to falsely convince doctors that opioid products like OxyContin (oxycodone) carried a low risk of abuse.
As doctors began to prescribe opioid painkillers in greater and greater numbers, the number of cases of abuse, addiction, dependency, and overdoses caused by these drugs skyrocketed. Although federal agencies have taken measures over the last few years to curb the rate of opioid prescriptions in the U.S., thousands of patients who were misusing these medications have turned to fentanyl and other powerful opioid drugs, sending the number of fatal opioid overdoses in the U.S. skyrocketing.
Thousands of lawsuits have been filed in the U.S. by families who have lost a loved one to an opioid overdoses. In addition to the many lawsuits filed against manufactures of opioid products, lawsuits have also been filed against doctors who misprescribed opioids to their patients and the pharmacies or distributors who supplied these patients with massive quantities of prescription painkillers.
Patients Injured by Opioid Painkiller May Qualify for a Lawsuit
If you or a loved one have been the victim of an overdose or other serious complications caused by opioid overprescription, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit against the doctor or hospital that was responsible for your injuries.
Although strong opioid painkillers are frequently prescribed by pain specialists with experience in administering these drugs to patients, general practitioners and other doctors with little to no training in administering the strongest painkillers routinely give these drugs to their patients. Studies have found that most doctors who are not pain specialists have trouble administering a correct dose of painkillers to their patients. When these errors result in overdose or death, the doctor or hospital may be at fault.
The lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson are among the nation’s leaders in handling cases involving potent opioids. Our law firm has the experience to prosecute medical malpractice cases involving a wide array of serious opioid painkillers, including Vicodin and hydrocodone, OxyContin and oxycodone, methadone, hydromorphone, Fentanyl, and others.
To receive a free legal consultation and find out if you are eligible to file a case, please call our toll-free hotline at 1-877-446-9001, or by filling out our free case evaluation form located on this page.