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Missouri Jury Awards $17.6M:

Opioid Addiction Case

The Plaintiff in this case was prescribed over 37,000 schedule II narcotic opioids for undiagnosed lower back pain, with a pain level that was never quantified by his doctor. Over the course of four years, his dose was escalated from 50 mg of opioids per day to well over 1500 mg on average and 40 pills per day in the final year.

We argued that these amounts were excessive and colossal, and that a patient with lower back pain never should have been on these dangerous narcotics at all. There was no risk benefit analysis done, no monitoring in place to keep proper track of the patient, and no assessments for dependence or addiction. Pharmacies even called and warned the physician several times that it was too much, but to no avail.

The records showed the patient asking for help already just a few months into the opioid prescriptions because he was struggling with them. He was going through his pills early constantly, unable to control himself, and would call describing clear withdrawal symptoms. Yet his prescriptions were simply increased routinely, and refills given early. Eventually, the patient spiraled out of control. He became a shell of his former self. He walked through his life like a zombie. It is shocking he did not end up dead. But with his wife’s help, he eventually went out and found help and entered rehab. The withdrawals at rehab were horrific, but he got thru it.

However, the damage was done. It wrecked their family. He lost over 4 years of his life, including the first several years of his only daughter’s life. And his marriage did not recover. It destroyed a young family.

The jury in the case was outraged at the doctor’s behavior, and sympathetic to the wreckage it caused. They found the physician primarily at fault, and awarded $2.6 million in compensatory damages. In addition, the jury assessed $15 million in punitive damages. The defense appealed the result, but the judgment was completely upheld on appeal.

Not only did this case result in a $17.6 million verdict for our clients, but it brought further national attention to the prescription opioid problem that has plagued our country, and led to wide scale changes in the medical field designed to improve opioid prescribing practices. The case is routinely presented to physicians at continuing education seminars as an example of what not to do, and institutional healthcare providers have instituted policies and procedures specifically to prevent the kind of conduct which occurred in this case.

When a patient is over-prescribed opioids, becomes addicted, and experiences the typical down spiral as a result, the simple thing to do is to blame the addict. But often times the only reason the person ever began taking these incredibly addictive pills, and kept on them escalating to dangerously high doses, is that there was a physician writing out the prescriptions. Moreover, the attitude that it is all the addict’s fault comes from a lack of understanding about addiction. It is a brain disease that results in a complete loss of control. It physically alters the circuits in your brain responsible for mood, behavior control, judgment, decision-making, learning, and memory. By the time someone is addicted, they may not be able to recognize it or do anything about it. It strips away a person’s ability to feel emotions, and leaves only a desire and need to get more pills.

The statistics from the prescription opioid epidemic are staggering. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have died from prescription opioid overdoses since 1999. At its peak, approximately 50,000 people per year were dying from prescription opioids. The annual number of deaths from prescription opioid overdoses exceeds the number of deaths caused by motor vehicles. The number of opioid prescriptions filled in U.S. per year equals our population. This increase in overdoses has mirrored the increase in prescriptions written by physicians. The risks have been known for a long time. They are schedule II narcotics as classified by the DEA because they are dangerous and have a very high potential for abuse.

The CDC and various states have guidelines all general recommending not to exceed approximately 100 morphine equivalent milligrams per day for a patient with chronic pain, and not to prescribe for longer than 90 days for non-cancer pain.
In 2016, the CDC published a comprehensive study and guidelines, based on long-existing literature, that there is no evidence that long-term opioid treatment provides any benefit, but rather results in substantial harm to the patient.

Our firm continues to handle these cases and is fighting to put a stop to the dangerous prescribing practices that have ravaged our country.