Can a Doctor Be Sued for Failing to Recognize Prescription Drug Abuse in a Patient?

The nation is suffering through an epidemic of opiate abuse. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, there were over 38,000 prescription medication overdoses in 2010, a number that has more than tripled since 1990. There are many reasons why this is happening, but health advocates attribute much of the trouble to physicians being insufficiently equipped and trained in the treatment of pain, and a dearth of pain control specialists. While the Food and Drug Administration has mandated that opioid manufacturers fund special continuing education programs for prescribers and many physicians are refusing to prescribe powerful drugs, others are continuing the practice, and in some cases it is leading to patients either accidentally overdosing or purposely using them to commit suicide. Many families of people who have overdosed have filed medical malpractice lawsuits against physicians, holding them responsible for having failed to recognize prescription drug abuse. Some of these lawsuits are successful and others are not, and many have resulted in settlements. The courts have indicated that there are certain signs that a responsible physician should recognize when a patient is seeking pain medication.

One of the things that physicians who have prescribed medication frequently point to in their own defense is the fact that patients are actively misleading them about their need for medication and their pain. In many cases doctors say that the patients rely upon their existing relationship to pressure them into providing medication. Most people agree that it is nearly impossible to assess whether a patient is addicted based on their appearance, and few take the time to order urine tests before prescribing medication. Experts say that there are certain signs that a responsible, attentive physician should spot. These include:

  • Refusing to provide old drug records or provide contact information for previous physicians
  • Not being willing to undergo diagnostic testing, and particularly urine testing
  • Requesting specific drugs by brand name. This can also be an indication that the patient is selling the drugs.
  • Turning down less powerful drugs by saying that they have an allergy to them.
  • Turning down alternative pain therapies.
  • Showing signs of anger or frustration when the physician refuses to prescribe opiates.
  • Frequently reporting having lost their medication and needing a replacement prescription.
  • Asking for a stronger dose of the medication or a larger quantity of pills upon refill.

A physician who is acting responsibly will pursue a complete patient history that includes previous narcotic usage and a physical examination supported by diagnostic tests. They will also educate the patient regarding the use and danger of the medication and themselves and their staff regarding state regulations. They will also refer patients who need or request pain medications to pain specialists who are equipped to deal with the issue.

If you believe that a physician has not measured up to the standard of care that you should have been able to expect of them for your loved one, you may be able to pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit against the doctor. For more information about your case, contact Wallace Law today.