When Prescription Opiate Addiction is Medical Malpractice



In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies assured medical professionals that patients wouldn’t become addicted to opioid pain relievers. Opiates were prescribed to help millions of Americans recover after a bone fracture or surgery. Unfortunately, prescribed opiates were subsequently found to be as addictive as heroin, and some doctors started reducing opioid pain reliever prescriptions. Ordinary people addicted to opioids tragically turned to street drugs.

If you or a loved one has suffered this outcome, it may be a case of medical malpractice. When is the medical professional liable for over-prescription or over-dosing opiates? A medical malpractice attorney can help you understand if the doctor is at fault.

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Opiate addiction

Opioid misuse reached epidemic proportions in 2017, and the United States Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency. Since then, opiate pain relievers have been prescribed much less, but prescription opioids still remain a significant problem. 

Facts and statistics

Patients turn to illegal drugs when their prescriptions run out. Four in five people who use heroin began with overprescribed pain medications. Further, having the prescription around the house may be too tempting for young family members. Two out of three teens abusing pain meds were either given prescription opiates at home or stole them from a family member.

Almost four million people in the United States misused prescription pain medication in 2015. The first opioid abused is most frequently a prescription opioid, not a street drug. According to the World Health Organization, high prescribed doses of opioids are a risk factor in opiate disorder.

Commonly prescribed opiates that lead to dependence

If you’re worried about yourself or a loved one, here’s a list of problematic prescription drugs.


Oxycodone is an opiate used for the management of severe pain. Oxycodone was derived from thebaine, an opiate alkaloid, in Germany in 1917. Known by the brand name Percodan, which was released in 1950, oxycodone is prescribed both for immediate relief of extreme pain or management of ongoing pain.


Hydrocodone (dihydrocodeinone) is used to treat pain and as a cough suppressant. It’s often prescribed with acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or added cough suppressants for increased effectiveness. Marketed under the brand name Zohydro ER, it’s also used to manage long-term pain.


Codeine is an opioid found in the opium poppy and is used in prescription and non-prescription medications. It’s used as a pain reliever alone or in combination with other ingredients, such as acetaminophen or acetylsalicylic acid.


Morphine, like codeine, is made from an opioid found in the opium poppy. Morphine is administered in several ways, by mouth or through various types of injections. It’s used both for acute pain relief and chronic pain relief.


Fentanyl is a highly potent pain reliever usually used in hospitals for severe pain. For medical purposes, prescribed fentanyl is administered in the form of tablets. On the street, fentanyl is used for lacing other drugs to increase their effects. Unregulated, this potent drug is a killer.

Medical malpractice leading to opiate addiction

Doctors can make errors in prescribing opiates that put their patients at risk for addiction. Patients attempting to manage chronic conditions are most likely to develop an opiate disorder.

Overprescribing opiates

Despite our awareness of the dangers of opioids, doctors and dentists are still flooding the US market with the drugs. As of 2020, the United States, with only five percent of the world’s population, consumes 80 percent of the opioid supply. Patients are receiving, on average, twice what they should be prescribed. Overprescribing puts millions of people in danger of addiction or, even worse, their children as vast amounts of the drug get stockpiled in medicine cabinets. 

Dr. Jonathan Chen, a physician and researcher at Stanford University Medical Center who studies prescribing patterns, says the practice is widespread. “It’s not just a handful of doctors doing it. We kind of all are. It’s become part of our culture that this is normal,” Chen says. Even for minor injuries like a turned ankle, one in eight patients is leaving the hospital with opiates.

Prescribing a high dose

High-dose therapy can be prescribed for acute pain; however, the higher the dose, the more likely it is the patient will become addicted. Sadly, high-dose treatment might not even work long-term and may actually increase pain. Patients taking high doses often report middling results but stay committed to the therapy due to addiction. 

Except for terminal cancer patients, doctors may be prescribing high-dose treatments despite knowing opiates are deeply addictive. These doctors would be liable under medication error law.

Ignoring patient history

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released guidelines for prescribing opiates for chronic pain in 2016. In this document, the CDC identifies a history of opioid prescriptions as a key factor in addiction. For what they believe to be humane reasons, many doctors ignore patient histories to get their patients the relief they need.

When to call a medical malpractice lawyer

If you or a loved one is on narcotic pain relievers but not feeling pain relief or if you feel you’ve been on the painkillers too long, take a look at how your doctor has managed the patient’s pain. 

  • Did the doctor continually reassess the case or simply keep renewing the prescription? 
  • Did the doctor warn or continue to alert the patient of the dangers of ongoing use of opioids? 
  • Did the doctor offer other pain management strategies? 

If the doctor ignored their basic pain management responsibilities, it’s time to seek legal representation.

How do I file a medical malpractice claim?

Medical malpractice claims have many requirements, including contacting the doctor and medical assessments. Also, there may be time limits for initiating this action. A malpractice lawyer knows the legal requirements, making this process much easier for you. 

If you’re searching for a “medical malpractice lawyer near me,” let LegalASAP help you find a trusted and experienced lawyer in your area. Stop wading through pages of web listings! Contact us today for a free evaluation.