I have seen an avalanche of new medical malpractice inquiries coming to my office regarding overdoses caused by prescription painkillers, most notably fentanyl. Just during July I received three inquiries from families of people killed while using the fentanyl patch. It may come as a surprise to most readers of this post to find that an FDA approved drug has caused so much disaster. The fact is prescription painkillers killed over 16000 people in 2013. Heroin? Just 6200. I will leave it for a different blog and more analytical political observers to ask why drugs that kill tens of thousands of people are approved by the FDA while marijuana (which killed zero, yes 0) people in 2013 remains illegal. (check out drugwarfacts.org for more information and the total chart of which drugs kill people.)
Just because a drug is FDA approved does not mean that an overdose or death caused while using the drug is not a case of medical malpractice. After all, if legally prescribed and used, where is the negligence? Quite the opposite, there is a strong chance of malpractice. I have handled these cases in the past and I am quite familiar with the power of this drug. Fentanyl is shockingly strong and intended for use only for the most severe cases such as dying cancer patients in hospice. Prescription of the patch outside of its recommended use or for the wrong patient can be grounds for a medical malpractice claim. In other words, a person with a marginal history of back pain should not legally be prescribed such a powerful drug. Fentanyl patch overdose can often be caused because it is prescribed to the wrong person or the person is not properly informed how to use the patch.
The patch itself can cause an overdose but it is particularly dangerous when paired with other drugs, particularly anti-anxiety drugs. This interaction can be fatal and it is graded as a moderate drug interaction, meaning that it should be avoided and only used under close observation.