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Physicians and Patient Opioid Abuse

It’s estimated that 75 percent of new heroin users in the United States were first addicted to legally prescribed painkillers. What role do doctors play in this country’s growing epidemic abuse of opioids?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 120,000 people each year are hospitalized due to an adverse drug event. When the drug is an opioid – a very strong prescription painkiller – often times the adverse event is fatal. The CDC reports the nation’s rate of fatal opioid overdoses has increased 200 percent since 2000.

Oxycodone, morphine, codeine, and hydrocodone are all types of opioids. They can be very addictive, so most physicians are judicious in prescribing them. But when a doctor isn’t careful in reviewing a patient’s history or doesn’t provide thorough monitoring, the doctor may start or feed the patient’s addiction by overprescribing opioids.

Some Surgeries More Likely to Lead to Opioid Addiction

A new Stanford University study reports that patients undergoing certain surgeries are in greater danger of becoming hooked on painkillers. The researchers found that those having knee surgery were five times likely to be addicted than the study’s patient control group that had no surgery. Patients undergoing gall bladder surgery were three-and-a-half times more likely to get hooked on prescribed painkillers. And women who underwent a caesarian section had a 28 percent greater chance for opioid addiction.

The CDC blames the rise in opioid addiction on patients who go “doctor shopping” and trick physicians into doling out painkillers, and doctors who carelessly overprescribe opioids. Another group of Stanford researchers last year determined that most opioids were prescribed by general practitioners.

New St. Louis County Prescription Drug Monitoring Program

Prescription drug monitoring programs are designed to prevent doctors’ prescription mistakes. St. Louis County recently adopted one. (Missouri remains the only state in the Union that does not have a statewide prescription drug monitoring program.)

These databases indicate if a patient is currently on prescription painkillers or on a medicine that should not be mixed with opioids. However, a 2015 study published in Health Affairs magazine found that while 73 percent of doctors were aware of their state’s prescription drug monitoring program, only about half (53 percent) actually referred to it.

When doctors are not careful when prescribing powerful painkillers, patients may endure life-altering effects more severe than the original injury. Physicians who make this serious and preventable error can be held accountable by an experienced medical malpractice attorney.

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