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Opioid Epidemic and Medical Malpractice: Is There a Correlation?

pills-2607338_1920-1024x683.jpgWhen we think of drug addiction, we often picture illegal drugs like cocaine or heroin, but in recent years it has come to light just how many people become addicted to drugs that were once prescribed to them.

In fact, in 2012, an estimated 2.1 million people in the United States were suffering from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers. As opioid addiction becomes more and more prevalent, the responsibility falls not only on the user to take the medication as prescribed, but also on the medical provider to consider a patient's history and alternatives to opioids before prescribing.

Alternative Treatments

The Chicago Tribune reported recently on doctors who are fighting the opioid epidemic head-on by developing new pain management techniques for both during and after surgery that do not involve opioids. Doctors have embraced everything-from the simple strategy of using an ibuprofen IV rather than morphine, to the complex approach of regional anesthesia, where doctors use a catheter to deliver a numbing drug to specific parts of the body. These doctors and their innovative methods are in high demand with those looking to avoid or recover from opioid addiction.

When Doctors Harm

At the same time, some doctors are continuing to prescribe opioids as the first choice for managing pain. The lines become blurred, both ethically and legally, when doctors prescribe larger-than-necessary quantities of opioids or knowingly prescribe them to patients who have addiction problems. If doctors are guilty of this behavior, they can be charged with inappropriate prescribing and improper pain management by their state boards of medicine. KETV Ohama reports on a Dr. Robert Cunard, a family physician, who recently received those exact charges after a patient overdosed and died from taking opioids. Dr. Cunard had prescribed the opioids with full knowledge of the patient's substance abuse problem. Dr. Cunard is currently on administrative leave while he awaits his hearing with the Iowa Board of Medicine.

While the opioid addiction crisis in recent years can be attributed to a number of factors, doctors' relationships with pharmaceutical companies and the duty they feel to treat patients' pain are a significant part of the problem. Doctors often have to weigh what will do the least harm, and sometimes they get it wrong.

Generally, a physician could be convicted of medical malpractice if he is considered negligent. This means that he failed to acknowledge previous addiction problems, did not consider alternatives to opioids, or didn't listen to patient concerns. If you were prescribed opioids for pain management and struggle with addiction, and feel your doctor may have been negligent, you should see a lawyer. At Norton& Norfleet, P.C., our knowledgeable medical error attorneys can help analyze what went wrong. Talk to us at (816) 607-4750 for a free consultation.

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