After a one-week medical malpractice jury trial in St. Louis, Missouri that ended in a verdict for the plaintiffs on June 28, 2016, the jury awarded the plaintiff husband $1.4 million and the plaintiff wife $1.2 million against a physician and his employer, finding that they were negligent in prescribing and monitoring the use of opioids for the husband. The Missouri medical malpractice jury awarded an additional $15 million in punitive damages against the defendants.
The couple’s Missouri medical malpractice lawsuit alleged that the husband had been prescribed in excess of 37,000 narcotic pain pills that were far in excess of the recommended levels, between 2008 and 2012, that left the man in a nearly zombie-like state, which strained the couple’s marriage and led to their present divorce proceedings. The narcotic drugs that were prescribed included oxycodone, Oxycontin, and Vicodin, which led to his drug addiction and subsequent treatment at a drug rehabilitation center. The massive opioid drugs that the man took over the extended period of time led to his depression and other significant side effects of opioid use.
The 45-year-old man originally had gone to the defendant physician, who was his primary care physician, complaining of back pain. The defendant physician began prescribing ever-increasing doses of opioid pain medications (the man’s average daily dosing of morphine-equivalent milligrams of opioid drugs increased from 49 in 2008 to 1,555 in 2012 – the most recent CDC guidelines regarding appropriate opioid dosing in the United States sets 100 milligrams of morphine-equivalent of opioids as the maximum recommended dosage).
A key piece of evidence introduced during the Missouri medical malpractice trial was a letter written in 2012 to the FDA by one of the defense medical experts in which the expert stated, “Unfortunately, many clinicians are under the false impression that chronic opioid therapy is an evidence-based treatment for chronic non-cancer pain and that dose-related toxicities can be avoided by slow upward titration. These misperceptions lead to over-prescribing and high dose prescribing.”
The plaintiffs’ medical malpractice attorney told the jury that there have been more than 165,000 deaths due to opioid abuse since 1999; that one in 32 people who are prescribed more than a daily average of 200 morphine-equivalent milligrams will die from opiod use; and, that there are 19,000 deaths every year due to opiod overdoses in the United States. The plaintiff’s medical malpractice lawyer told the jury, “This is a doctor problem … the problem starts with the doctor, and we have to do something to end it.”
Hopefully, the Missouri medical malpractice jury’s verdict in this case will help lead to the medical profession properly addressing the opioid abuse problem in the United States.
If you, a family member, or a loved one may be the victim of negligent pain management practices, you should promptly consult with a local medical malpractice attorney in your U.S. state who may investigate your pain management claim for you and represent you in a negligent pain management case, if appropriate.
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