Siegal & RichardsonLLP

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Did your doctor play a role in your opioid addiction?

One of the most significant advances of medical technology in the last two centuries has been the development of reliable, consistently dosed painkillers. For millennia, humans had to rely on alcohol or questionable herbal treatments to reduce and limit the experience of pain.

For those who suffer a traumatic injury, fight against debilitating disease or struggle with chronic pain, opioid and opiate painkillers often represent the only source of hope and physical comfort. Unfortunately, these medications carry with them both significant risk for addiction and the potential for fatal overdose. They also interact with many other medications and popular recreational substances, like alcohol.

Opioid addiction has reached epidemic proportions in the United States in recent years. Part of this is due to the willingness of medical professionals to prescribe modern painkillers without warning their patients of the risks associated with the medication.

Did your doctor really discuss the statistical risk of taking opioid painkillers?

Best practices in medicine include informing patients about the risks or concerns associated with certain treatments or medications. For example, were you aware that 4.3 million people in 2014 used prescription painkillers for non-medical reasons, and roughly half of those people were addicted to the medication in question?

Some doctors may assume that patients already understand the inherent risks involved in taking narcotic painkillers. Other doctors may simply not consider the consequences that these medications can have on a person's biology and life.

When a doctor fails to educate patients about the risks involved with the medication, the patient cannot make an informed decision. Unfortunately, sometimes, that lack of information can lead to serious medical consequences, including addiction.

There is a fine line between enabling addicts and compassion

There is no question that there is and will always be medical necessity for narcotic painkillers. However, doctors must balance the potential benefits of those medications with the risks that they create for the patient receiving treatment and society as a whole.

When doctors prescribe strong painkillers without vetting petients' medical need or providing guidance about its addictive potential -- as well as the need to regulate intake and taper medication at the end of use -- patients can wind up dealing with negative consequences. Those consequences can range from fatal overdose to ongoing addiction that leads them to street drugs and illegal sources of the painkillers they depend on.

It may be possible to hold a doctor legally responsible via a malpractice lawsuit for their failure to put a patient's best interests above the ease of writing a pain prescription and moving on with their day. Discussing the details of your case with an experienced medical malpractice attorney in San Francisco can help you understand your options.

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