As a medical malpractice attorney, the prescription drug overdose case is a case I am seeing more and more often.  America is a pill-taking nation.  If one sits down to watch television for more than a few minutes, it is highly likely they will see an ad for a new prescription medication.

One class of prescription (narcotic) Americans are taking at an increasing rate is painkillers. Painkiller is a layman’s term for opioid based analgesics. Common names for these opioids are Vicodin, Oxycodone, Morphine and OxyContin.  As more Americans take opioids for pain, the chance for addiction, misuse, diversion and accidental overdose increases.  As a medical malpractice attorney, I am often contacted by family members that have lost loved ones from opioid overdose.

Opioid or narcotic overdose is at times the end result of the patient developing an addiction disorder.  Prescription opioid abuse occurs when a patient takes the narcotic in a way that is different from what the doctor prescribed. It could be: 1) taking a medication that was prescribed for someone else, 2) taking a larger dose than prescribed; 3) taking the medication in a different way than prescribed (crushing, snorting or injecting); 4) using the medicine for another purpose, such as getting “high” (euphoria).  Abusing narcotics often times leads to addiction. Consequently, physicians are required to stratify risks for each individual patient they prescribe narcotics to.

Risk stratification is simply a tool physicians use in assessing the probability that a particular patient is going to abuse the narcotic and comparing that probability with the likelihood they will benefit from the particular opioid or narcotic based treatment.  Obviously, there are risks associated with taking any prescription medication.  However, given the high addictive properties associated with narcotics, physicians have to be particularly aware of the risks of abuse in prescribing narcotic medications to patients. Unfortunately, too many physicians fall short in appropriately assessing the risks with their patients before prescribing these dangerous and addictive medications.

We would encourage anyone to call us if they believe that a physician failed to adequately and appropriately prescribe and monitor a patient that is taking opioid medication which resulted in a patient accidentally overdosing on the opioid medication and causing the patient severe permanent damage or death.


This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you have any questions, call 480.461.5300 or log on to, or contact an attorney in your area.