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Is opioid dependence the result of medical negligence?

The opioid epidemic is getting much attention from news media and governmental agencies. Climbing numbers of addicts and overdoses have resulted in intensified scrutiny as officials think of ways to stop the negative effects of opioid overdoses. Some families consider holding physicians responsible, and lawsuits for medical negligence are on the rise. Even the tiny state of Rhode Island is seeing its fair share of problems from opioid addiction. How does drug dependency relate to medical negligence? 

Are physicians liable for addiction and overdoses? A physician is responsible for the duty of care for their patients. If the physician failed to notice the addiction, or prescribed too much or too addictive of a drug, they may be held accountable for medical malpractice. Likewise, if a person overdoses and dies from opioids, a physician could possibly be held accountable if the death or injury was a result of the doctor's breach of duty. In some instances, physicians have even been charged with murder. 

Can pharmaceutical companies be held accountable for addiction? It is often harder for an individual to make this argument, since it is generally held that the makers of addictive drugs are too distant from an individual's experience to be held responsible. Courts have historically held the individual responsible for their own addiction, but if a person can find that a drug producer knew that their product was very likely to cause addiction, there is likely to be a charge of liability. 

The high numbers of opioid dependence and deaths are changing attitudes about this class of drugs. Approaches of holding the individual solely accountable for the addiction are fading somewhat, as authorities try to address addiction from a holistic approach. When doctors are trained on drug dependence, and makers are required to consider harmful side effects, people are less likely to abuse drugs and die. In Rhode Island, it is possible to sue a physician for medical negligence, if the addiction has a clear relationship to the failure on the part of a physician. An attorney may be a good resource to help an individual evaluate their medical malpractice case. 

Source:, "Opioid Lawsuits: What You Need to Know", Christopher Coble, Aug. 24, 2017

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