Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of injury death in the United States. Most of those deaths are from opioid drugs, synthetic or natural derivatives of opium, and most of the opioid deaths are from legally prescribed drugs like Percocet, Vicodin and OxyContin. These drugs are sometimes necessary for short-term pain control after surgery or a bad injury, or for longer use if someone has end-stage cancer, but they are highly addictive and cause physical dependence which many patients struggle to overcome and sometimes never do.
Narcotic opioid drugs cause death by depressing the body’s natural instinct to breathe. These deaths happen with frightening regularity. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), 44 people die every day in the United States from prescription opioid overdose. Click here for more reliable information from the government on the scope of the opioid epidemic and what can be done about it.
HHS also says that Americans are now prescribed four times more of these opioid narcotic drugs than they were 20 years ago, but there’s been no increase in the overall amount of pain suffered by people living in the U.S. That means that over-prescription of narcotics by doctors is a rampant problem.
Women are especially vulnerable to dependence and addiction and overdose of prescription opioid painkillers, as the Centers for Disease Control explains in this website.
Doctors who prescribe opioids long-term for patients without a very good reason are violating the trusted gatekeeping responsibility that they have under federal and state drug control laws. If a patient is harmed or killed by a drug negligently prescribed by a doctor, the doctor could be subject to a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Here is a link to a news story about one such lawsuit, Curtis v. Highfill in Manassas, Virginia, where the victim is represented by Patrick Malone & Associates. Some further details on the Curtis case:
A jury in Prince William County Circuit Court on February 7 2018 found a Manassas orthopedic surgeon liable for the death of a patient to whom he had prescribed narcotic pain relievers for more than three years.
The doctor is Christopher Highfill, MD, who practices with Northern Virginia Orthopedic Specialists.
Mary Jo Curtis, age 57, was found dead in her bed in June 2014. The state medical examiner ruled it an accidental overdose caused by a combination of oxycodone, a narcotic drug prescribed by Dr. Highfill, and alcohol. The jury heard evidence that Dr. Highfill prescribed more than 7,000 pills of Percocet, a brand name for oxycodone, for what his record shows was mild arthritic pain over the course of 40 months when she was his patient.
The jury assessed damages in the wrongful death lawsuit at $100,000 for Shea Curtis, age 27, of Richmond, Ms. Curtis’s only child.
“We’re pleased that the jury found Dr. Highfill responsible, but we plan to appeal the amount of damages which we believe was inadequate because the jury was not allowed to hear from a key witness. That was an expert in addiction medicine who was prepared to explain to the jury how oxycodone addicts its users but how addiction can be overcome with treatment,” said Al Clarke of Patrick Malone & Associates, of Washington, D.C., co-counsel for Ms. Curtis’s estate. Lead counsel for the plaintiff at trial was Jim Lees of Charleston, WV.
Mary Jo Curtis was an insurance executive in Manassas whose life deteriorated dramatically after she came under the care of Dr. Highfill for a broken ankle in 2011 and he put her on long-term prescription of Percocet. The jury heard evidence that Dr. Highfill wrote weekly prescriptions for Ms. Curtis for Percocet despite recognizing that she was vulnerable to addiction because of her history of alcohol abuse. The last 14 months of her life he did not see her a single time in his office while writing weekly prescriptions that eventually totaled more than 7,000 pills.
Dr. Highfill admitted he was negligent but denied responsibility for Ms. Curtis’s death, which he contended would have happened anyway if he had not prescribed the Percocet.
Dr. Highfill was reprimanded by the Virginia Board of Medicine, the state licensing authority, for prescribing narcotics to the patient without seeing her, which is a violation of state prescribing law.
Here are more facts about opioid drug over-prescription by doctors from the Centers for Disease Control.
Consult with an Experienced Malpractice Attorney
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