When it comes to drug addiction, there is little room for doubt in our modern understanding that it is a disease.
As such, those who perpetuate the disease – i.e., the illicit dealers – are sanctioned by society, typically in the criminal justice system. To often, the exception to this are those who are causing the most harm: The doctors.
Our Boston medical malpractice attorneys know that in 2009, some 15,500 people died in this country as a result of narcotic painkiller overdoses. That is a 300 percent increase in a period of two decades. For every death attributable to this cause, there are another 10 treatment admissions, more than 30 trips to the emergency rooms and roughly 830 non-medical users of these substances.
Prescription narcotics cause more deaths today than cocaine and heroin – combined.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration this month released an open letter to doctors, calling the abuse and inappropriate use of opiod painkillers “epidemic” and a “major public health challenge.”
Some 320,000 doctors across this country wrote prescriptions for at least one opiod last year – most wrote many more. These physicians may not be able to control whether the drug is stolen from the patient or whether the patient turns around and sells it on the street. However, doctors do have a responsibility to be informed about illicit uses. They need to use their best judgment in terms of figuring out who is actually a legitimate patient and who may be an addict or a street dealer. They also have a responsibility to educate their patients about the appropriate use of the drugs, as well as the potential risks and the right way to dispose of them.
We want to believe that most doctors are being cautious and doing the best they can. Unfortunately, there is a lot of anecedotal evidence out there to suggest that is simply not the case. And sadly, many doctors are putting profits ahead of the welfare of both their patients and society at-large.
A recent extensive investigation by The Los Angeles Times found in a review of coroners’ reports that a small number of physicians were responsible for writing a disproportionate number of the prescriptions of people who were ending up dead of an overdose.
In reviewing some 3,735 prescription-related deaths, nearly 50 percent were directly and solely attributable to prescription painkillers. Of those, 0.01 percent of doctors in the area were responsible for 17 percent of the deaths. Four of those doctors had 10 or more patients who had overdosed, with the most being 16 in a four-year time frame.
Some are calling for a review of a doctor every single time a doctor’s patient dies of an overdose. Our Boston personal injury lawyers would certainly support such a move.
What the FDA is asking for is:
- Assurance that doctors have adequate training in opiod therapy;
- Proof that doctors have knowledge of the content of most of the current opiod drug labels;
- That doctors take the time to inform patients about the appropriate use of these drugs and the risks.
All this, in our view, would be just a start.
If you or a loved one has suffered a painkiller overdose in Massachusetts, call the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free and confidential appointment — 1-888-367-2900.
FDA joins with health professional organizations in encouraging prescribers to seek training to safely prescribe opioid pain medicines, March 1, 2013, By Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., U.S. Food & Drug Administration
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