Does the Overprescription Of Opioids Rise to The Level of Medical Malpractice?

If there had been any doubt before, it is clear now that America’s opioid epidemic has assumed a prominent place in the nation’s consciousness. While issues began to arise years ago, most would agree that much time passed before average Americans understood the extent of the problem. Now, television, print, and internet media cover the issue daily. The government has taken an active role in seeking solutions to address the problem. Cities, counties, and States have filed suits against pharmaceutical companies. Forty-one states have joined forces to investigate pharmaceutical companies and their role in the crisis. On March 29, 2017, President Trump issued an Executive Order that established the President’s Commission on combating drug addiction and the Opioid Crisis. But many people are also taking a close look at the medical profession and its role in both creating and perpetuating the crisis. In this article, we will consider whether the overprescription of opioids can rise to the level of malpractice.

Medical Malpractice in Oregon

Medical malpractice occurs when a health care provider’s failure to meet the applicable “standard of care” causes harm to the patient. The term “standard of care,” as applied to a physician, is defined by Oregon Revised Statutes, Section 677.095, which states in part: “[a] physician licensed to practice medicine or podiatry by the Oregon Medical Board has the duty to use that degree of care, skill, and diligence that is used by ordinarily careful physicians in the same or similar circumstances in the community of the physician or a similar community.”

Can the Overprescription of Opioids Rise to the Level of Medical Malpractice?

The short answer is: “absolutely.” Physicians must meet the appropriate standard of care in prescribing all medications, including opioids. Certainly, overprescribing a medication, which harms a patient, can result in a finding of medical malpractice. Similarly, prescribing medication, including an opioid, which is not indicated for the particular circumstances, can result in a finding of medical malpractice.

How Does a Victim Prove Medical Malpractice for Overprescription of Opioids?

The key question is to determine whether the physician prescribed opioids in an intentional or negligent manner that resulted in harm to the patient. In a medical malpractice lawsuit, the patient has the burden of proof and must produce evidence which proves that the physician violated the standard of care. To demonstrate such a violation of the standard of care, it is necessary to obtain expert testimony from one or more medical care professionals. In other words, to prove that the physician being sued acted negligently, another medical care provider must provide testimony that he or she is familiar with the degree of care used by ordinarily careful physicians in the community, and that the physician who overprescribed the medication did not meet the standard of care. Thus, it is important to work closely with members of the medical community in investigating and pursuing these types of claims.

Contact Us with Questions

If you or a loved one has suffered injury or death resulting from the use of opioids, you may have questions. If a medical care provider overprescribed opioids or prescribed them when he or she shouldn’t have, the medical care provider should be held accountable both to society and the injured victim. This is essential to protect all of us. But investigating medical malpractice can be complicated and expensive. If you need help investigating your circumstances, or only have questions, please contact the experienced medical malpractice attorneys at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield.


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