One problem that we have in West Virginia, which points to the discouraging level of drug dependency, is a high rate of doctor shopping. Patients go from doctor to doctor, or pharmacy to pharmacy, hoping to get multiple prescriptions for powerful drugs. Unfortunately, as a recent study from West Virginia University showed, this could lead to a greater risk of drug-related death.
Researchers looked at data taken from the West Virginia Controlled Substance Monitoring Program, as well as drug-related death data compiled between July 2005 and December 2007 by the Forensic Drug Database. Overall, data on more than one million people was studied, ranging in age from 18 and older. Of these people, 698 were deceased, with 25% found to be doctor shoppers, while 17.5% were found to be pharmacy shoppers.
Furthermore, researchers found that 20% of doctor shoppers were also pharmacy shoppers, and 55.6% of pharmacy shoppers were doctor shoppers. The younger the individual, the more likely the person was to suffer a drug-related death. Researchers concluded that the most likely way to slow these trends was to maintain prescription monitoring programs, which could be useful in identifying potential shoppers before they visited their first doctors or pharmacies. Such programs already exist in most states. Researchers also recommended that physicians routinely consult the Controlled Substance Monitoring Program every time a new patient came to them seeking a prescription for a powerful drug, to see whether that patient got another prescription recently. Finally, researchers stated that doctors and pharmacists needed to be in regular contact with one another, to prevent patients from slipping through with multiple prescriptions.
While we at the Wolfe Law Firm tend to be mainly involved with personal injury involving accidents in the workplace, on the road, or on someone else’s property, we note the high level of prescription drug abuse with concern. It is always tragic when someone dies accidentally from a drug overdose, and those involved with prescribing or doling out these drugs open themselves up to the possibility of a wrongful death suit.
Now West Virginia is what is known as a “comparative negligence” or a “comparative fault” state. That means that the plaintiff in a lawsuit can be negligent to a certain degree and still collect a jury award for the other party’s negligence — as opposed to “contributory negligence,” where the plaintiff cannot collect at all if he or she is even slightly responsible for his or her injury. While West Virginia allows a plaintiff to collect, the state still imposes limits based on the plaintiff’s percentage of fault. If a plaintiff is 50% or more at fault, he or she cannot collect.
Still, the loved ones of someone who died of a drug overdose might think it worth the risk. They might hire a West Virginia wrongful death attorney and make the argument that if not for the negligent actions of the physician and/or pharmacist, their loved one would not have died of the overdose. Both were professionals who should have taken the necessary precautions to ensure that the patient did not have multiple prescriptions. If the deceased’s loved ones put forward that argument, they might be able to sway a jury into believing that the doctor and/or pharmacist was more than 50% responsible.