Medical Errors and Opioid Abuse

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 90 Americans die each day from overdosing on opioids. What role do medical errors play in today’s growing abuse of opioids?

These powerful painkillers are highly addictive. A one-time dosage has the potential to lead to lifelong misuse. That makes their prudent role in pain treatment so vital.  An opioid prescription error can be just as deadly as other types of serious medical mistakes, like misdiagnosis or errors during surgery.

Because opioids are so addictive, the common practice is to limit their prescription. The Centers of Control and Prevention cites evidence that chances for addiction increase greatly after only a three-day use.

On a positive note, a recent survey indicates that hospital emergency rooms largely are not a source of opioid prescription errors.  It reviewed 5 million emergency room opioid prescriptions between 2009 and 2015 and found insured patients prescribed opioids in this setting were 44 percent less likely to get a prescription exceeding three days as compared to other medical care settings.

But other news about opioid prescription mistakes is not as positive.

Opioid Mistakes Leading Type of Medical Malpractice Claim

Mistakes involving opioids account for more medical malpractice claims than any other drug, according to a recent study by a medical liability insurer. The study reviewed closed medical malpractice claims between 2012 and 2016.  More than a third of the cases involved incidents in which the opioid-prescribing doctors failed to adequately follow up with patients. Often times physicians renewed opioid prescriptions without ever checking on patients.

Another study, released in October by the non-profit ECRI Institute Patient Safety Organization, found hospital patients being harmed by unintentional opioid overdoses. More than a third of the opioid adverse events were traced to problems in administering the painkiller. These medication mistakes included wrong dosage, the wrong drug, or a failure to assess a patient’s potential to react poorly or dangerously to an opioid.

Errors Found in Handwritten Opioid Prescriptions

A John Hopkins Medical Center study released over the summer showed that 92 percent of the facility’s handwritten opioid prescriptions contained errors or did not meet practice standards.  The mistakes included illegible prescriptions, prescriptions lacking date or pill quantity, and a lack of two required types of patient identification, such as patient birthdate and Social Security number.

Opioids can help patients with severe pain.  But administered incorrectly or irresponsibly, they can also lead to needless long-term injury or even death.

If you were harmed or had a family member die from what you feel was a medication error or some other type of avoidable medical mistake, a medical malpractice attorney can investigate on your behalf.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertising.

Authored by Gray, Ritter & Graham, P.C., posted in Blog November 7, 2017