Wrongful death lawsuit filed over Wyoming man’s death from fentanyl patch prescribed for post-surgery pain

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by Jim Orr

Relatives of a Montana man who died from a lethal mix of narcotic painkillers that were prescribed following surgery have filed a federal lawsuit against the hospital and medical personnel who gave him an opiate patch containing the drug fentanyl. The estate of Russell Monaco, represented by Monaco’s wife and brother, filed the federal lawsuit Monday in Cheyenne.

Monaco died at his home the day after he was discharged from West Park Hospital. An autopsy found that the 47 year-old man died of a drug overdose caused by the fentanyl patch and other drugs he was prescribed, according to the lawsuit.

The suit states that medical personnel prescribed for Monaco a patch containing the drug fentanyl. The patch manufacturer’s standard warnings and prescribing information provide that the fentanyl patch should only be given to people who were accustomed to taking opiates and that it poses a grave risk of respiratory depression and death.

The lawsuit accuses the neurosurgeon, Dr. John H. Schneider, and others of negligently contributing to the death of Monaco in late 2011 by treating Monaco’s post-surgery pain with an opiate patch and other drugs despite warnings against giving such medication to someone with little history of opiate use.

Monaco was admitted to a Billings emergency room complaining of severe back pain. He arrived in Cody eight days later for a consultation with Schneider. Schneider apparently advised Monaco that he was in need of spinal surgery and would be admitted for an emergency procedure. Still recovering from surgery in the hospital, Monaco was prescribed a fentanyl transdermal patch for pain control. The lawsuit states the patch was prescribed “in contravention to an FDA black-box warning” describing the “life-threatening adverse affects” (including respiratory depression) of the medication for anyone who has not demonstrated opioid tolerance.

Within 24 hours of the fentanyl application, Monaco began experiencing symptoms of overdose with a documented “low oxygen saturation event” or hypoxia. On the morning of Dec. 1, his recorded oxygen saturation fell to 75 percent, according to court records. The suit alleges that hospital staff made Schneider aware of the incident but the surgeon nonetheless discharged Monaco that same day as scheduled.

Monaco returned to his Billings home with five additional fentanyl patches as well as prescriptions for hydromorphone, oxycodone and Valium. That evening, he took the medication as prescribed and fell asleep. His wife and two children awoke the next morning to find Monaco unresponsive. Based on an autopsy and pathology report, a coroner has said Monaco died from a “mixed drug overdose (including oxycodone, fentanyl and other drugs).”

Fentanyl Patch Litigation at Heygood, Orr & Pearson

Heygood, Orr & Pearson has successfully prosecuted more cases involving deaths due to fentanyl products than all the other firms in the country combined. We have spent years studying fentanyl, its uses and its misuses. We have deposed hundreds of doctors, scientists and experts on the subject of fentanyl products.

In the very first jury trial by the lawyers of Heygood, Orr & Pearson against makers of a fentanyl transdermal pain patch, a Florida jury awarded a $5.5 million verdict to the family of a man who died while wearing a Duragesic pain patch. More recently, Heygood, Orr & Pearson obtained a $16 million verdict for the family of a Cicero, Illinois woman who died while wearing a Duragesic pain patch. That verdict was upheld on appeal, resulting in a payment of more than $21 million.

Fatal mistakes that our firm has seen doctors commit in prescribing fentanyl patches include:

  • Overestimating the initial dose of fentanyl patches
  • Prescribing them for acute or post operative pain
  • Prescribing fentanyl patches to opioid naïve patients
  • Prescribing fentanyl patches to patients with significant pulmonary problems
  • Prescribing fentanyl patches at the same time as other CNS depressant medications

If you or a loved one has experienced the tragedy of losing a family member as a result of fentanyl pain patch usage, you and your family deserve answers to your questions. If the loss was as a result of a prescribing error, you have the right to demand that the responsible healthcare provider be held accountable. Contact us for a free consultation so we can help you determine the best way to protect your legal rights and interests.

To receive a free legal consultation and find out if you are eligible to file a case, please call our toll-free number at 1-877-446-9001, or by filling out our free case evaluation form located on this page.