In May, Evansville made headlines by filing a federal lawsuit against multiple opioid manufacturers and distributors. The city wasn’t alone: Hundreds of cities, counties, and states have filed similar lawsuits, including Vanderburgh County this April.
The opioid epidemic has affected many Americans across the country, including here in Evansville. The Midwest in particular saw a 70-percent increase in opioid overdoses from July 2016 to September 2017. Forty people died from opioid overdoses in Vanderburgh County just last year.
Opioid addiction is the tragic result of poor healthcare policies that began in the late 1990s. Pharmaceutical companies persuaded medical professionals that their products were not highly addictive, causing greater prescription and addiction rates. Now that the opioid epidemic is in the national conversation, you would think that these poor practices would have been put to an end.
However, just last month, Evansville Courier & Press published an opinion piece from a woman named Emily Passé. Passé wanted to avoid the pain killers doctors would likely prescribe her after her upcoming abdominal surgery. Putting aside the risk of addiction, Passé simply didn’t want to deal with the side effects, including uncontrollable nausea, dizziness, and vomiting.
Before surgery, Passé and her surgeon decided on a regiment of over-the-counter Tylenol. But after the surgery, Passé found herself with a prescription for Tylenol 3 and 40 tablets of codeine, a highly addictive opioid, from the hospital staff. She also learned that a nurse had administered Dilaudid, another highly addictive opioid, to her through her IV while she slept during her one-night hospital stay.
While cities, counties, and states take on pharmaceutical companies in the courts, many patients like Passé are left wondering if the hospitals that prescribed these drugs can be held accountable as well. In essence, can a patient sue a hospital for medical malpractice if prescribed painkillers lead to an opioid addiction?
What the Courts Say
Many lawsuits against hospitals and medical establishments for opioid abuse are still pending, but there are a few cases you can look at to gauge how the courts plan to handle this new legal territory.
Tens of Thousands of Pills in Just 4 Years
Two years ago in St. Louis, Missouri, a jury awarded Brian and Michelle Koon $17.6 million in their medical malpractice lawsuit against Dr. Henry D. Walden and St. Louis University. Dr. Walden had prescribed Brian Koon more than 37,000 pain pills from 2008 to 2012 at levels far above what the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) recommended. At one time, Koon was taking three different prescribed painkillers: Oxycontin, Vicodin, and oxycodone. His addiction landed him in a rehabilitation center and contributed to his divorce.
Prince’s Tragic Overdose
In 2016, the world lost music legend Prince to an overdose. This April, The New York Times reported that Prince’s family filed a lawsuit against the Illinois hospital that treated Prince’s first overdose one week before his death.
Prosecutors believe that Prince first overdosed on what he believed were prescription opioids like Vicodin, but were in fact counterfeit versions containing the highly powerful synthetic opioid known as fentanyl. Although Prince received treatment at the Illinois hospital for this first overdose, his family alleges the hospital failed to investigate the cause of the first overdose and provide proper counseling.
Lack of Medical Intervention
In Chicago this year, a family sued a suburban hospital and a Chicago-area doctor for the overdose death of 56-year-old mother and grandmother Linda Svanstrom.
Svanstrom suffered from chronic knee pain and visited the hospital and her local doctor weekly. Her family members claim to have asked the hospital to stop filling Svanstrom’s prescriptions, but the hospital ignored them. Phone records showed that Svanstrom made 80 calls to her primary care physician in just seven months. She died of a prescription drug overdose in February 2017.
Help from an Evansville Medical Malpractice Attorney
Legal action takes time, and the courts are still determining what the law has to say about who is ultimately responsible for patients’ opioid addictions. If you believe your hospital or doctor may be responsible for your addiction, our Evansville medical malpractice lawyers may be able to help. Call us today or contact us online for a free conversation about your claim.