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Overprescribing

America’s drug problem in many respects is fueled by physicians overprescribing powerful medications.

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) studied the issue of temporal trends in prescription drug use in 2015 and discovered 6 in 10 American adults are currently prescribed at least one medication – a sharp increase of 10 percent in just a decade and more than ever before. More than a quarter of the population has used three or more prescription drugs in the last 30 days.

Boston dangerous drugs lawyers at The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman know prescription drugs have a huge range of therapeutic benefits – when distributed correctly and under close supervision. The problem is far too many physicians fail to adhere to accepted standards of care when doling out dangerous narcotics.

Ballooning Prescription Rates

The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that in Massachusetts, the average prescription rate filled by pharmacies according age in 2014 was:

  • 3.2 prescriptions for ages 0 to 18
  • 10.6 prescriptions for ages 19 to 64
  • 24.6 prescriptions for ages 64 and older

Nationally, the average for adults ages 19 to 64 was 11 prescriptions. These figures exclude the 14 million prescriptions filled for patients whose age was unknown.

Although some of the increase in prescriptions has been explained as a byproduct of our growing obesity epidemic, as well as our increasing older population, experts opine the bigger problem is a medical system that fails to offer disease prevention and non-drug alternatives to medical complaints. In 2011, a report published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine by doctors at the Center for Patient Safety Research and Practice at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston asserted judicious prescribing is a prerequisite for safe and appropriate use of medication. The team offered the following guidelines for cautious and conservative prescribing:

  • Think beyond drugs by considering non-drug therapy and prevention;
  • Practice more strategic prescribing by deferring drug treatment that isn’t urgent, being circumspect about unproven uses for drugs and begin new treatments using just one drug at a time;
  • Be vigilant in monitoring the adverse effects;
  • Be skeptical and cautious of new drugs;
  • Work with patients to achieve shared goals, and don’t automatically grant requests for drugs;
  • Consider the long-term, broader impacts of each medication.

Severe addiction and overdose are the major concerns with overprescribing. There is also the possible harm that someone may cause when under the influence of drugs. Consider the 2015 West Virginia Supreme Court decision in which justices ruled 3-2 to allow people to claim damages for allegedly causing or contributing to their controlled substance addictions – even if plaintiff violated the law by “doctor shopping.” Plaintiffs in a group of consolidated cases sought damages from their doctors for everything from car accidents to workplace injuries caused by addiction to controlled substances.

Some drugs commonly cited in these cases include:

  • OxyContin
  • Percocet
  • Soma
  • Valium
  • Vicodin
  • Xanax

State medical boards are increasingly taking the issue of overprescribing seriously, as are law enforcement agencies.

Holding Doctors Accountable

A 2014 report by the Federation of State Medical Boards clearly states one of the primary causes of action for unprofessional conduct includes, “Prescribing drugs in excess or without legitimate reason.”

A tool that aids many such investigations is the Massachusetts Online Prescription Monitoring Program. It’s a secure website hosted by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health that allows physicians and pharmacists to access information on a patient’s one-year history of controlled substance prescription medications. It’s used by all in-state pharmacies, as well as those who deliver to people in the state, and it is accessible by state and federal investigative agencies in controlled substances-related investigations.

Board actions are issued against physicians following a formal process of complaint, investigation and hearing. Physicians can be disciplined by the state board in a range of ways, from verbal reprimand to suspension or even revocation of medical license.

Medical malpractice lawsuits, however, are initiated by a legal complaint filed by a plaintiff (patient or representative of patient) in civil court.

As noted in a 2009 article published in the journal The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, there are “Four Ds” in medical malpractice cases. Plaintiffs must prove:

  • Duty. Physician had a duty to the patient, meaning he or she had undertaken this patient’s treatment. This is usually straightforward, unless the doctor-patient relationship wasn’t clearly established or occurred outside of a medical setting.
  • Dereliction. Plaintiff must demonstrate the doctor was derelict in his or her duties by in some way acting below the standard of care expected for doctors practicing in that same field of medicine under the same or similar circumstances. Expert medical testimony is usually required.
  • Directly. The dereliction of duty must have directly caused the damage to patient and/or third parties.
  • Damages. The dereliction of duty caused some compensable harm to the patient for which the doctor must pay damages.

If you or a loved one has suffered injury or illness as a result of a physician overprescribing medication, an experienced injury lawyer can help.

Contact the Boston personal injury lawyers at The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman by calling (617) 367-2900.

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