Reducing Liability for Opioid Addiction in West Virginia

opioidsNews media across the country have been chronicling the consistent rise in opioid use and addiction throughout the United States over the last few years. Whether due to health issues, economic struggles, or general malaise among the public, the use and abuse of opioids has risen to the level of a national health crisis.  Opioids are prescription drugs, requiring that they be prescribed by a doctor and dispensed by a pharmacist.  Thus, as addiction levels have risen, criticism has increasingly turned to the possible contributions of physicians and pharmacists to this growing problem, as well as their liability for the relative ease of access to and misuse of prescription medications.

In response to concerns about the way health care professionals may be negligently contributing to an opioid epidemic, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey recently unveiled new draft best practices for physicians and pharmacists who prescribe and dispense opioid medications.  Thus far, the best practices have been met largely with support by the medical community, since they seek to standardize the correct ways for medical professionals to use opioids within their practice, and lessen possibilities of mistakes or misuse within the State.

At the heart of the draft best practices is a commitment to reducing the use and prescribing of opioids by at least 25 percent within West Virginia. West Virginia currently has one of the highest rates of drug overdose deaths in the country at 35.5 deaths per 100,000 people.  In 2015, the state recorded 598 opioid-related deaths.  Thus, as a first line of defense, the Attorney General proposes that the abuse of opioids can best be avoided by greatly limiting the number of patients who have access to such medication.  While extreme painkillers may be necessary in certain circumstances, the draft best practices contend that the needs of many patients can be adequately met through other therapies and medical approaches, thereby avoiding the possibility of addiction.

To the extent that opioids are prescribed, the best practices encourage physicians and pharmacists to carefully monitor their use by patients and to utilize a variety of testing methods to help ensure that patients are not misusing their medication and that physicians are not contributing to such misuse by the continued prescription of opioids. Physicians should also examine patients for indicators of drug misuse, including signs of needle marks, opioid intoxication, and opioid withdrawal. Physicians and pharmacists are further instructed to educate patients about the addictive qualities of opioids and the high potential for misuse.

Pharmacists filling opioid prescriptions are encouraged through the draft best practices to utilize state-controlled substance monitoring databases and to remind patients to carefully store and dispose of opioid medications in order to avoid abuse or overdose by others in their household. They are also instructed to check the identity of persons picking up opioid prescriptions in order to reduce prescription fraud and protect the health and safety of all patients at their pharmacy. In all instances, however, the draft best practices recognize that both physicians and pharmacists must have the ability to make decisions as to opioid use based on their own professional judgment.

Opioid misuse and abuse is increasingly a basis for wrongful death, negligence, and malpractice claims throughout West Virginia.  While patients are responsible to take their medications as prescribed to them and to avoid the abuse of medication, physicians and pharmacists must also undertake due diligence to ensure that medications are not being provided to patients with clear opioid addiction problems, or are not being prescribed in a manner that makes a patient particularly susceptible to addiction.

If you or a loved one have been harmed or killed as a result of opioid addiction, and you believe that the actions of a doctor or pharmacist may have contributed to the suffering you experienced, the Wolfe Law Firm can help. Our West Virginia medical malpractice lawyers have been serving clients throughout the state for more than 25 years in negligence, wrongful death, and medical malpractice matters. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the firm represents clients in a wide range of personal injury issues. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.

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