Opioids are now a major driving force behind fatal drug overdoses. Prescription opioids caused more than 20,000 overdose deaths in 2015, and heroin caused 12,990 overdose deaths that same year, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine. And these figures are only rising. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported deadly overdoses involving opioids were five times higher in 2016 than 1999. The rise in opioid prescriptions is largely to blame for this increase. Many medical professionals and state legislatures agree that prescriptions are fueling this widespread problem, and some are looking to change when and how opioid painkillers should be administered to patients.
If you or a loved one were inappropriately prescribed opioid medications that resulted dependency or an overdose, you should speak with a medical malpractice attorney regarding your rights.
Maine limits opioid prescriptions
Maine’s Gov. Paul LePage signed into law “An Act To Prevent Opiate Abuse by Strengthening the Controlled Substances Prescription Monitoring Program” on April 19, 2016. Under the law. physicians are allowed to prescribe only up to 100 morphine milligram equivalents (MME) per day for patients, though there are exceptions for patients on hospice, with cancer, or with incurable, chronic conditions. This is not a high opioid dose. There are patients around the country on doses up to seven times higher.
This law was controversial and is considered one of the strictest in the country. It not only impacts new patients, it also requires patients with previous prescriptions to comply with the law within a year unless they meet an exception.
The Maine Bureau of Insurance reported a 19.8 percent drop in opioid prescriptions in the first half of 2017 compared to the first half of 2016. The bureau stated the decline could be based on numerous factors, including fewer prescriptions, physicians weaning patients off the drugs, and the use of alternative pain management techniques. While it remains to be seen how effective this law is in reducing dependence and accidental overdoses, many see it as a good start.
Michigan enacts opioid legislation
In December 2017, Michigan’s Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley signed numerous bills into law that alter when, how, and to whom physicians can prescribe opioids. They include:
- Senate Bills 166 and 167, under which physicians are required to check the state’s automated prescription system and review a patient’s prescription history before prescribing opioids. Failing to do so could result in disciplinary action.
- SB 270 requires physicians to have a bona fide physician-patient relationship before prescribing any controlled substances.
- SB 274 limits physicians to prescribing only up to a seven-day supply for acute pain within a seven-day period.
Other state actions
Numerous other states have also taken action, though potentially not as strict or comprehensive as Maine or Michigan.
“A lot of the state medical boards have gotten involved in this issue, as well as state boards of pharmacy,” says Brad Honnold, a medical malpractice attorney and partner at Goza & Honnold. “In Kansas, the State Board of Healing Arts has in combination with the State Board of Pharmacy issued a document that really kind of lays out the State Board of Healing Arts’ cut views about prescribing opioids to patients. These guidelines, now that they’ve been in effect for a while and are becoming more and better known to physicians, are starting to become the evolving standard of care in the state of Kansas.”
Alaska, Hawaii, Utah, Louisiana, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut limit first-time opioid prescriptions to seven days. Nevada has a 14-day limit, while New Jersey and North Carolina have five-day limits. Kentucky and Minnesota have three- or four-day limits. These limits are typically for acute or post-operative pain, not chronic pain.
In addition to Maine, Rhode Island and Nevada are the only other two states that limit opioid prescriptions based on MME.
Washington, Oregon, Utah, Wisconsin, Ohio, Virginia, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island have directed another agency or regulatory body to create opioid prescription limits.
Taking legal action
While more states, counties, and cities are filing lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies, individuals can take legal action as well. Those most closely harmed by opioids are seeking to hold their physicians and drug companies accountable.
“Addiction could lead to further claims such as job loss, loss of family wellbeing, divorce, loss of child custody, loss of home, financial distress, bankruptcy, all of those sorts of things are common claims that flow from a patient becoming addicted to medication,” says Honnold. Each case is unique, and there is no guarantee that an individual will win a suit against the physician who prescribed them or a loved one opiates. However, some plaintiffs have won. Plaintiffs Brian and Michelle Koon filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against St. Louis University and Dr. Henry D. Walden. Mr. Koon was awarded $1.4 million, Mrs. Koon was awarded $1.2 million, and the jury also awarded them $15 million in punitive damages.
If you believe your dependency on opioids or a loved one’s overdose death was the result of negligent prescription of opioids by a physician, you should speak with a highly experienced medical malpractice attorney about your options. If there is evidence the physician violated the standard of care they owed you or your loved one, you may have the right to file suit and pursue compensation.