Cleveland Painkiller Overdose Lawyers
Ohio is unfortunately at the forefront of the painkiller overdose epidemic. In 2016, the number of unintentional overdoses rose 33% to 4,050 in Ohio. Out of those deaths, 13.9% of people died as a direct result of overdosing on prescription opioids. An unprecedented amount of lives are lost each year due to this health crisis. When a loved one overdoses or wrongfully dies as a result of taking too many prescription painkillers, it is a tragic loss. You may not have even known that they had a problem with addiction. You’re thinking, “what happened,” and “how did I not know?”
At Tittle & Perlmuter, we investigate overdoses as a result of the use of prescription drugs. Why? It may not be the patient’s fault. Doctors must follow rules in prescribing narcotics in order to protect their patients and the public, and when they don’t, patients become addicted and overdoses occur.
If a loved one has died as a result of a prescription overdose, usually narcotics, give us a call. We can help walk you through this distressing time by informing you of everything you need to know about Prescription Opioids and if you have a case.
What is an Opioid?
Opioids are a class of drugs that, when taken, interact with opioid receptors on nerve cells, which ultimately alleviate pain. Drugs in this class include heroin, fentanyl, and pain relievers. People are prescribed prescription opioids to help relieve chronic or long-term pain they may experience after surgeries or catastrophic injuries.
What is an Overdose?
As helpful as prescription painkillers are to manage pain, they can also become detrimental to your health. Opioids, even ones given to you by a health care provider, are easy to misuse and abuse because they are easily addictive. Even when individuals take their regular dose, it is easy to slip into a dependence on these drugs. Addiction to opioids can lead to overdoses, and tragically death as well.
An overdose is defined as an excessive or dangerous dose of a drug, which can be toxic or lethal to your body. When someone is experiencing an overdose, they cannot get help themselves, and it’s important to know the symptoms of an overdose because it could save a life. The symptoms most commonly associated with an overdose are:
- Loss of consciousness
- Going into a coma
- Shallow, slowed, or stopped breathing
How Can You Die From an Overdose from Prescription Drugs?
When you take too high of a dose of prescription opioids, it can slow down and stop your ability to breathe. When you can’t breathe, it cuts off the flow of oxygen to your brain. If people do not receive medical treatment within a timely manner, then they can experience a traumatic brain injury or die. There are many ways that people end up taking too much of a prescription painkiller. In many instances, people develop a tolerance to the drug and have to take more in order to receive the same effect. They then take too much at once, allowing them to overdose. Or the painkiller may interact with other medications or substances the individual is already taking, causing harmful consequences.
Drug overdoses are, sadly, the one of the leading causes of death in Ohio, surpassing even car crash fatalities recently. In 2016, there were a total of 4,050 overdose deaths, and 564 of them were prescription opioid related deaths.
Types of Prescription Opioids
There are many different types of opioids that health care providers may prescribe to their patients. Common painkillers that are highly addictive are:
You may more easily recognize specific types of these medications, such as Vicodin, OxyContin, Demerol, or Percocet. These types of drugs are prescribed to help treat acute or chronic pain stemming from surgery, dental procedures, serious sport injuries, or cancer. Oxycodone typically treats severe pain after surgery, and is as powerful as heroin. Hydrocodone is prescribed to treat acute and severe pain. Many times prescription opioids are dispensed as pills or syrups, but fentanyl is also available as a patch.
What is the Root of the Problem?
Simply put, too many prescription, narcotic medications are being prescribed; and as a result, patients are becoming addicted. Individuals who are addicted to heroin or other opioids found on the streets, frequently became hooked on prescription drugs, such as morphine, codeine, oxycodone, or hydrocodone first – heroin is just cheaper. In fact, approximately 80% of people who are addicted to heroin started on painkillers. In 2016, health care providers dispensed 631 million prescription opioid doses to patients, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ⅕ of patients with non-cancer pain or pain-related diagnosis are prescribed opioids. Primary care providers account for half of these pain medications that are dispensed to the public. A breakdown of what opioids are prescribed for are:
- 49% for pain medicine
- 37% for surgery
- 36% for physical medicine or rehabilitation
Despite dispensing these prescription painkillers to help patients, the drugs have concerning consequences. The Ohio Department of Health found that, “of all unintentional overdose deaths in Ohio in 2016, 834 (20.6%) had an opioid prescription in the previous 30 days.”
Guidelines for Prescribing Prescription Opioids
The state of Ohio does recognize the opioid crisis that has escalated over recent years. Starting August 31, 2017 the State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy set new limits on prescribing opioids for acute pain. These guidelines are effective throughout Ohio for prescribers to make sure their patients are safe. The new limit rules cover the following:
- Adults can’t be prescribed more than 7 days of taking prescription opioids
- Minors are only allowed to have a 5 day prescription of opioids
- Prescriptions can only be extended if there is a specific reasoning from the health care provider, which is included in the patient’s record
- A prescription for acute pain cannot exceed 30 MED per day
- These guidelines don’t apply to prescription opioids used for cancer, hospice, etc.
- These rules are intended for “the first opioid analgesic prescription for the treatment of an episode of acute pain.”
In addition to these guidelines, the Ohio Administrative Code sets forth an additional laundry list of rules doctors must follow when prescribing narcotic medication.
If a medical professional violates these guidelines, then they are being negligent and committing a prescription error.
Who is to Blame for a Prescription Overdose?
Especially the rules that physicians and pharmacists must follow set forth in black and white, if a doctor or other health care provider is prescribing opioids for an extended amount of time and fails to follow these rules, then you may have a prescription error case. When someone is prescribed a prescription opioid for too long and is hurt or killed as a direct result of taking that medication, then a medical professional may have committed medical malpractice or medical negligence.
Examples of Prescription Negligence
There are many instances where a physician can be found negligent in relation to prescribing prescription opioids. In some cases, doctors fail to even examine a patient, and simply write them a prescription for a painkiller. This is a form of negligence because if a healthcare professional has no proof that a patient is in pain, and the cause of that pain, then they are unnecessarily prescribing opioids. This can lead to addiction in individuals who never even needed that strong of a pain reliever in the first place. A health care provider should always examine a patient and review their past medical records before prescribing a painkiller.
Another form of negligence is when a doctor prescribes more opioids when a patient’s pain continues instead of trying another solution. Under the new guidelines, medical professionals have to have a clear reasoning about why to extend an opioid prescription. If they cannot pinpoint why they are prescribing more of the same drug instead of trying another option, then they are only increasing a patient’s chance of drug dependence.
Healthcare providers are also negligent when it comes to ignoring addiction signs. Common side effects of addiction or dependence on prescription opioids include:
- Increased tolerance of the drug
- Physical dependence on the drug
- Increased sensitivity to pain
- Nausea, vomiting, and dry mouth
- Sleepiness or dizziness
- Itching and sweating
If a doctor notices these symptoms and does not check into whether or not a person is taking a form of prescription opioid, it is considered negligence. In fact, the Ohio Administrative Code mandates a referral to an addiction medicine specialist if signs of addiction are noted.
Medical Professional’s Duty of Care with Painkiller Prescriptions for Acute Pain
When a patient sees their health care provider because they’re experiencing acute pain, there are guidelines physicians should follow before prescribing an opioid. The first step is to conduct a full medical history and physical exam. The medical professional should then determine the location, severity, and symptoms of the pain that the patient is experiencing. In addition to the physical exam, a psychological exam should also occur to determine if the patient is at risk for an opioid addiction. Once the history and exams are completed, the physician should find out what is causing the pain – this may include x-rays, MRIs, or CT scans. Finally, the physician should create a pain management plan for the patient. This includes educating the patient about treatment, risks and benefits of a medication, and setting their expectations for the pain management.
If a doctor concludes that a patient’s pain would best be treated by a prescription opioid, then they should follow these practices:
- Complete a risk screening
- Prescribe the least potent opioid that will effectively manage the pain
- Buprenorphine is the most potent opioid, whereas codeine is one of the least potent opioids
- Dispense a minimum quantity, with no refills
- Avoid prescribing an opioid for a long-term period
- Discuss how to safely take and wean off the medication
- Warn of how addictive the medication is
Prescribing opioids should be a last resort to treat acute pain. Other options that a healthcare provider should consider first are treatments that don’t include medication. If a patient comes in with an issue, such as back pain, then a physician can recommend a variety of alternative treatment. Physical therapy, massage therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic adjustment, ice, heat, and stretching are just a few of a long list of non-pharmacologic options for acute pain.
Anyone is susceptible to becoming addicted to prescription opioids, but there are certain risk factors that may increase the chances of dependence or misuse of painkillers. These include:
- Overlapping prescriptions
- Taking high doses of a prescription opioid
- Having a mental illness
- Having a history of substance abuse
There are steps that individuals can take to ensure they’re staying safe while using prescription opioids. It is essential to take prescription painkillers exactly as your healthcare provider intended you to. Do not stop or change the way you take an opioid without first consulting your doctor. Another way to make sure you’re taking prescription opioids safely, is to not mix the drug with antidepressants, certain antibiotics or sleeping pills.
Compensation for a Wrongful Death Prescription Drug Case
Tittle & Perlmuter represents families who have tragically lost a loved one to a prescription drug overdose as a result of physician negligence. One of the most important reasons to hire a Painkiller Overdose Lawyer is because they can help you recover compensation for the loss of your loved one in the form of monetary damages. These include:
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Funeral expenses
- Wrongful death damages
How Can Tittle & Perlmuter Help with Prescription Error Cases?
It’s hard to know if an opioid prescription was an acceptable treatment and care plan for a patient, or if it was a form of medical malpractice. If you have questions concerning the overdose or death of a loved one who was taking prescription opioids, do not hesitate to contact our office. Once we know the details of what happened, we may have a better idea if negligence occurred. We understand the tragic reality of the prescription opioid crisis that Ohio is experiencing. You shouldn’t have to go through this confusing time alone. The Prescription Error attorneys at Tittle & Perlmuter are ready to answer your questions once you’re ready to speak on the subject. Call us at (216) 308-1522 or fill out an online contact form.