Medical malpractice insurance carriers, defense lawyers and the doctors they work with can expect an uptick in the number of lawsuits being filed within the next year alleging our doctors negligently prescribed OxyContin and other opioids or failed to counsel patients appropriately to prevent their addiction. With the Attorneys General of several states suing the companies which sell these opioids and the president declaring a national emergency due to the rising rate of opioid addiction, we can expect plaintiff’s lawyers to take notice. Class actions against the pharmaceutical companies are already brewing and spin off malpractice litigation is inevitable.
Our pain management doctors are most vulnerable to these claims given the volume of patients to whom they prescribe but they generally have better procedures in place with respect to opioid prescriptions since they have been cracked down on by most state medical boards over the last few years. It is the occasional prescriber who may be least prepared to defend these allegations. They are more often criticized for failing to refer patients to a pain management specialist.
Juries may now view these cases with slightly more sympathy for the plaintiffs given that the media is stressing the “inevitable” addiction associated with opioid use. We must adjust to this change in perception and perhaps alter the way we defend these cases at trial.