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Suing doctors and drug companies for addiction to pain medication?


Colin Hedrick
Legal Intern, Manhattan Institute's Center for Legal Policy

Should doctors and pharmaceutical companies be liable to patients who become addicted to habit-forming drugs they prescribe/manufacture? If State Sen. Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) has his way, they will be. Segerblom recently introduced SB 75, which would make doctors and drug makers liable for the treatment costs of those who become addicted to legally prescribed pain medications. The bill would also open up doctors and drug makers to potential punitive damages as well.

Thankfully, this rather ridiculous idea is starting to draw national attention and if the overwhelmingly negative response at a recent senate hearing on the bill is any indication, it has little chance of passing. Doctors, drug makers and experts of all varieties lined up to speak out against this proposed law. Most are concerned that it will do little to curb addiction and will negatively impact many who have a real need for these pain medications.

From a legal perspective, this proposed law is little more than the feel-good expansion of tort law that serves no purpose other than to make the Nevada government look like it is doing something to counter drug addiction and punish those 'big bad drug companies.' In our culture of ever increasing fear over medical malpractice and endless class action suits against drug makers, this law would simply add another layer of legal mess on the already damaged relationship between the doctor and patient. Instead of relying on medical knowledge, training, and judgment, laws like this force medical practitioners to make their decisions out of fear for legal consequences.

This is to say nothing of the total abdication of personal responsibility that this law embodies. There are incredibly strict guidelines about forewarning patients of possible side effects to medication, including potential addiction. However, no matter what steps are taken there will always be a portion of patients who will form a habit. Yes, there are undoubtedly some doctors who over prescribe and enable addiction. Yes, there are likely patients who are predisposed to addiction. But in the end, a good number of those who become addicted simply don't follow the directions whether by accident or intentionally, and they must be held accountable for their own actions on some level.

This type of legislation is no way to run tort law, no way to hold doctors accountable for actual malpractice, and it is certainly no way to make sure that patients get the kind of care they actually need.


There is plenty of case law indicating physicians can be held liable for causing addiction with prescribed controlled substances.

Examples are King V. Solomon MA, (1948) 8 ALR 2d 1, Los Alamos Medical Center v. Coe, NM (1954) 50 ALR2d 1033 and Ballenger v. Crowelln NC (1978) 16 ALR4th 989.

Of course, the common law tort requires some kind of expert testimony concerning standard of care. I suppose the proposed law tries to bring a kind of strict liability standard to both physicians and drug manufacturers. That doesn't seem like a good idea. A lot of chronic pain patients are addicted. What are you going to do about it? It is just the way it is.

Go to the root of the problem and take these addictive pain killers off the market. The drug companies have made enough money off these drugs that are killing people everywhere. America has 10% of the world population yet we use 80% of the prescribed pain killers manufactured in the world.
Drug abuse did not rise to this level until the drug companies convinced the government that these pain killers were safe. These drugs are not safe and are killing more people everyday at an increasing rate.
Let's start to put pressure on the drug companies and government to put a halt to this ever-increasing issue in America.

@Jason Schaeper you have no idea what Chronic Pain is like. I suffer day in and day out every day for almost six years. I wake up in the morning I hurt it a day long nagging pain that clouds your mind. It is fatigueing, depressing , hopeless thing to deal with. Some days you don't want to even climb out of bed Chronic Pain really rock bottoms a person's quality of life. A unfortunately pain killers help bring back some of the quality of life lost. Instead of laying around in the bed all day hurting wishing for some way out , I can take my children to the park or pool . There are many more things I can do now that Chronic. Pain kept me from doing.And if I am going to hurt like this for the rest of my life and I am only 38 years - old then so what if they are addictive what other choice do I have SUFFER I don't think so.T he problem isn't. the pain medicines it is the drug addicts that aren't Chronic Pain Sufferers who are abusing the system and the drugs .

But this Law is one of the dumbest yet. I have know some Chronic Pain sufferers who have had to resort to street drugs such as Heroin because they could get the proper pain medicines they need, because the strict laws and regulations we have in place now but we need some in place to counter act the non Chronic pain sufferers who are abusing the system. But even with them in place they still keep finding ways around them. It really is a catch 20/20 situation .

This is hard for me I agree with both sides. reason being is I was one of them that was addicted to pain medication. Now let me explain how I got there. I started small month to month I become less responsive to the pain pills I was taking. When this happens you either go to a higher dose or the next stronger drug on the market. I went from tylenol to over 13 medications do to the pain. Yes I said 13 forms of pain medications. The list went from topamax to morphene and many in between. I took these drugs 3 or 4 times a day, my joke was no need to eat now I'm full. I took handfulls at a time. I live the pain today and I dont say it is all drug free I do take vitamines and aspiren. I decided I tried it the pills now I'LL try it my way, I use erbs now... after 15 years I can think again, focuss longer, and maybe I can have a conversation without getting lost.... life is good today not pain free, but it all worth getting my life back

I disagree strongly with your points about personal responsibility. Pain medication is prescribed by a trained professional in a position of authority-not a dealer on the corner nor a clerk at a liquer store.
Addiction usually comes on insidiously while following the prescribed doses with more and more of the drug being required to control symptoms. By the time addiction is recognized, withdrawal symptoms become themselves debilitating.
You now have more than just a "certain" percentage of patients who don't follow directions and have a predisposition to addiction hooked on pain meds. You have an epidemic of formerly healthy patients who have sought help for pain and through NO fault of their own are now caught in a vicious cycle of pain AND addiction.
Yes doctors should be held accountable as their patients depend on their expertise on issues that affect and sometimes threaten their very lives. Doctors are paid highly, highly educated, and should bear the associated responsibility.
Your example is comparable to blaming a minor student for having relations with a teacher.

responsibleseeking to

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