Doctors may prescribe opioids to treat the chronic pain that often accompanies long-term illness or disability, or for acute pain from broken bones, burns, cuts, and surgeries. While these medications address pain, they are also highly addictive. Patients who become addicted run the risk of dangerous misuse, overdose, and with increasing frequency, death (a fate to which even celebrities are not immune). The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that about 25 percent of patients who were prescribed opioids misuse them, about 10 percent develop a disorder and about 5 percent of those who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin.
Opioid abuse may give rise to a personal injury lawsuit. If you or a loved one was harmed by opioids, speak to a malpractice lawyer as soon as possible. Call Dolman Law Group at (727) 853-6275 or contact us online to discuss your potential claims.
What Are Opioids?
Opioids are a broad class of substances that bind to opioid receptors in the body, especially those that control feelings of pleasure and pain. After opioids attach to receptors, they block pain signals from the brain and release dopamine throughout the body. It’s this release of dopamine that puts those who take opioids at risk for dependence, misuse, or addiction.
Opioids include opiates, such as heroin, codeine, and morphine, that are derived from the opium found in certain species of poppies. They also include synthetic opioids that are made in laboratories, and include most prescription painkillers. The most commonly prescribed opioids are:
- Hydrocodone combined with acetaminophen (Vicodin, Lorcet, Lortab, Norco)
- Hydrocodone (Hysingla ER, Zohydro ER)
- Hydromorphone (Dilaudid, Exalgo)
- Oxycodone combined with acetaminophen (Percocet, Endocet, Roxicet)
- Oxycodone (OxyContin, Oxecta, Roxicodone)
- Oxymorphone (Opana)
- Morphine (Kadian, Avinza, Astramorph, MS Contin)
- Fentanyl (Actiq, Duragesic, Fentora)
- Methadone (Dolophine, Methadose)
- Meperidine (Demerol)
Drugged Driving in Florida
Drivers using drugs, including prescription opioids, often cause traffic accidents. Under Florida law, driving under the influence of prescription drugs carries the same penalties as driving under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs.
Florida statute establishes the substances that apply in DUI cases, with broad inclusion of “any substance for the purpose of inducing a condition of intoxication or which distorts or disturbs the auditory, visual, or mental processes.” This means that even a person who has legally used opioids with a prescription will drive illegally if the drug impairs normal functions.
The court may find an impaired person who causes an accident while driving negligent and order the intoxicated driver to pay damages. Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles reports that in 2016, more than 900 fatal crashes involved driving under the influence of a drug. The rate of accidents where both drugs and alcohol were involved increases this number.
Data that separates the incidence of illegal drugs from prescription drugs in Florida car accidents is not available. It’s also difficult to separate opioids into “legal” and “illegal” categories because even if patients have legal prescriptions, they may still misuse and abuse opioids.
A 2011 study in Baltimore looked at the role of prescription drugs in motor vehicle crashes. Researchers found that more than 60 percent of those involved in crashes took prescription drugs, most often opioids. Experts suggest that the pattern in Maryland is representative of other states, including Florida, which consistently leads the nation in traffic accidents.
Florida Sues Drug Companies
Opioid addiction in Florida is an epidemic that kills 15 Floridians a day. This may not surprise many Floridians, considering that the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) reported that 98 out of the top 100 opioid-prescribing physicians were in Florida.
In May 2018, Florida’s attorney general filed suits against the nation’s biggest opioid manufacturers and distributors. Palm Beach County, Broward County, and the city of Delray Beach had already filed similar suits. All of the lawsuits accuse the named parties of understating the risks of addiction to prescription opioids used for pain management.
The state of Florida lawsuit named multiple manufacturers and distributors as defendants:
- Purdue Pharma
- Endo Pharmaceuticals
- Janssen Pharmaceuticals
- AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation
- Cardinal Health
- McKesson Corporation
Damages sought include costs related to drug treatment, birth addiction, foster care services, law enforcement, and other expenses the state incurred because of the opioid epidemic.
Doctors have the highest duty of care to their patients. Doctors may bear liability if they prescribed opioids and those drugs harm a patient or cause addiction. They may also incur liability for a patient’s injury or overdose death. Depending on the facts of the case, the court may find the doctor has breached the duty of care and committed medical malpractice.
The most common ways a doctor may commit malpractice related to opioids are:
- Improper dosage. Doctors or other medical professionals may give a patient too much medication, or prescribe the wrong medication.
- Failure to get a patient’s medical history. Doctors must take special care to not prescribe opioids to a patient who has a history of drug use and addiction, or a patient who demonstrates opioid-seeking behavior.
- Unneeded prescriptions. Doctors must discontinue prescriptions for opioids when patients no longer need them or when a less risky alternative exists.
- Failure to monitor patients. Opioids cause side effects and withdrawal symptoms that may lead to illness, and in severe cases, death. Doctors must monitor patients when they start or stop treatment with opioids.
If you were injured in an accident because someone else was using opioids, or if you were harmed by opioids prescribed by a doctor who failed to meet the duty of care, you may have a legal claim under Florida law. However, medical malpractice and lawsuits involving opioids present complex cases because a single claim may implicate multiple parties. A lawyer will best help you navigate the legal system.
An experienced personal injury lawyer at Dolman Law Group can review your case and advise you of your rights. If our firm agrees to pursue your claim, we will fight to obtain the best possible outcome for you. Contact Dolman Law Group in New Port Richey at (727) 853-6775 or online for a free consultation.
Dolman Law Group
5435 Main Street
New Port Richey, FL 34652