In a new investigative report, the Los Angeles Times says that prescription drug overdoses are a big problem in California. Its research showed that 47 percent of the Los Angeles area's 3,733 narcotics-related deaths between 2006 and 2011 involved prescriptions.
This is especially problematic because the Times' investigation also concluded that doctors' reckless prescription practices are partially to blame. In other words, instead of individuals finding and abusing prescription narcotic drugs, doctors are often ignoring the risk signs of addiction and possible overdose. By freely prescribing large doses and dangerous combinations of narcotics, these doctors may be committing medical malpractice.
Two separate problems are involved in this dangerous trend. First, doctors have shifted away from reserving narcotic prescriptions for extreme cases and are prescribing them much more often - probably too often.
Second, the medical review boards in California only respond to individual complaints of inappropriate prescriptions - this approach depends on patients who recognize problems and are willing to lodge a complaint. These investigations come too late to save many patients.
By the numbers, narcotics are involved in many fatal overdose cases. Over 15,500 narcotics fatalities occur in the United States every year and 75 percent of those deaths are the result of overdoses. Nationally, many overdoses involve addicts who acquire drugs on the black market. Here in Los Angeles, however, 47 percent of fatal overdoses occur as the result of apparently legitimate prescriptions.
These prescription-related overdoses center on a relatively small number of doctors. Many of these doctors are solo practitioners like pain specialists and psychiatrists who practice without peer oversight from a hospital or HMO.
Based on the Los Angeles Times' investigation, these prescription overdoses probably involve reckless or negligent conduct. When doctors deviate from industry standards for safe prescription amounts or drug combinations, they probably commit dangerous medical malpractice - entitling their victims to compensation.
Check back later this week for more discussion on this issue.
Source: Los Angeles Times, "Feeble safeguards for at-risk pain patients," Lisa Girion and Scott Glover, Dec. 9, 2012