Opioid Medications: Growing Source of Medical Malpractice

May 4, 2018 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman
Opioid Medications: Growing Source of Medical Malpractice

Doctors can be Liable for Damages From the Overprescription of Opioid Pain Medication

The United States has been suffering a deadly opioid epidemic as of late. With the increase in opioid-related injuries and suffering, doctors have come under scrutiny and have begun to be held liable for the overprescription of opioid painkillers.

How Many people are affected by Prescription Opioids?

According to the CDC, roughly 40 Americans die each day due to opioid overdoses and consumers spend four times as much money on opioids than they did in 1999. The result has been that the U.S. while making up less than 5% of the world population, uses 80%of prescribed opioids. The medical liability insurer, Coverys, released data indicating that opioid drugs are responsible for 24 percent of medical malpractice claims involving prescription medications.

The Dangers of Opioid Painkiller Overprescription


The primary issue with opioid overprescription is how it causes addiction. Opioids by nature are already incredibly addictive due to their active ingredient being opium which is also the raw natural ingredient of heroin. Yet despite this medical fact, pharmaceutical companies still churn them out in astonishing quantities then market them heavily to doctors that prescribe them more than ever. In 2012, 259 million prescriptions were written for opioids, which is more than enough to give every American adult their own bottle of pills. When opioid-based prescriptions are taken the body begins to develop a tolerance to the drug. The patient is forced to take greater and greater quantities of prescription in order to feel the same effects. Once they no longer have a prescription from doctors for opioid painkillers, patients are left with a narcotic addiction and no longer have a legitimate means of indulging it. It is not unusual for patients that have become addicted to prescription opioids to turn to illegal alternatives such as heroin that fall within the same drug category.


Opioid-based painkillers carry with them a heavy amount of risk due to their powerful effects on your body's essential life functions. Opioids are classified as CNS depressant drugs which means that they slow the region of the brain in control of breathing. Opioid painkillers carry with them a chance of overdose which can result in respiratory depression. This can be fatal due to it causing breathing to stop altogether.

Ways Opioid Prescription can be Considered Medical Malpractice

The Incorrect Administration of Opioid Medications

If a hospitalized patient is prescribed an excessive dose or is not closely monitored, it is possible that they can suffer harm. There is also the possibility that patients can be given the incorrect medication. In a study performed by the ECRI Institute, it was found that 35 percent of adverse events involving opioid medications were caused by the improper administration of opioids during hospital stays.

Improperly prescribing opioid medications

In some instances, doctors can prescribe opioid medications to a patient that has a history of addiction or is demonstrating the drug-seeking behavior. Other times, a doctor can continue to prescribe a patient opioid-based painkillers when they are no longer needed or when there are less risky powerful alternatives.

Failure to Carefully Monitor Patients

It's possible for patients to suffer harm if doctors do not closely monitor them while they are taking prescription opioid medication. A common concern is that doctors do not take into account how withdrawal effects will affect their patients after taking them off of opioid pain medications.

Opioid Pain Medications That Have Been Commonly Overprescribed

  • OvyContin(sold as oxycodone)
  • Duragesic or fentanyl pain patch (sold under the names Sandoz, Watson, and Mylan)
  • Dilaudid (sold under the name Hydromorphone)
  • Vicodin(sold under the name hydrocodone)
  • Methadone

How Can Doctors be Held Liable for Opioid Overprescription?

In order to be held liable, the overprescription of opioid painkillers would have to be considered medical malpractice. Medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare provider's action or inaction can be classified as negligence that results in a patient's harm. Doctors can absolutely be charged with a malpractice claim should their overprescribing of opioid medication result in the direct harm of their patient. Also, the prescription of a medication, including an opioid, which is not indicated for the particular circumstances of a patient, can result in a finding of medical malpractice. There have been several cases to date of patients being awarded several million dollars in damages because of neglectful overprescription of opioid medication.

How to Prove A Doctor's Overprescription is Medical Malpractice

The primary question is whether or not the doctor prescribed the opioids in an intentional or negligent way that resulted in harm to the patient. The patient has the burden of proof in a medical malpractice lawsuit and must have evidence that demonstrates the physician's actions or inactions were negligent and resulted in their harm. In order to prove this, a medical expert of typically the same field as the doctor in question will be required as a medical witness. The testimony of a medical witness familiar with the proper standards of medical treatment in the field is instrumental in determining that a physician overprescribed an opioid pain medication that ultimately harmed the patient. Several other details will be necessary to provide in order to successfully prove medical malpractice:
  • The patient's medical history
  • Any of the patient's complaints during treatment
  • The treating doctor's experience
  • What the medical literature states on how to treat the  patient's condition
  • The diagnosis
  • The treating doctor's objective medical findings
If you or someone you know has been harmed by the prescription of opioid medication then don't hesitate to contact the Dolman Law group for legal consultation. The experienced lawyers of Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA will assist you in holding the parties responsible for the damages done to you or your loved ones accountable. Please feel free to contact us with any questions. You can reach us in one of these 3 ways:
  • Call Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA at (833) 606-DRUG [3784]
  • Complete this online contact form
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Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has successfully fought for more than 11,000 injured clients and acted as lead counsel in more than 1,000 lawsuits. Always on the cutting edge of personal injury law, Matt is actively engaged in complex legal matters, including Suboxone, AFFF, and Ozempic lawsuits.  Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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