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Protecting patients from prescription overdose

The media has recently reported on numerous cases of both accidental and intentional prescription overdose in which the victims' families blame the prescribing physician. Some of these cases have merit. After all, actionable medical malpractice cases arise when physicians and other healthcare providers fail to treat patients in accordance with certain standards of care. If a physician prescribes medications negligently, recklessly or in accidental error, he or she may generally be held liable for harm done to the patient taking the prescribed medication.

As a result, it is critical for both physicians and for patients' loved ones to approach the subject of prescription medications with caution and due consideration. Adequate communication can help to prevent tragically preventable overdose that is either accidental or intentional.

For example, if a patient requests or requires prescription pain medication, it is important that physicians communicate with the patients' loved ones and other professionals if there is any potential risk of an accidental or intentional overdose of this kind of medication.

For the past 11 years, prescription overdose death rates have increased rather than declined. Of these fatalities, three in four have been characterized as unintentional overdoses. Many question whether physicians are becoming more universally negligent in their approach to prescription medication or whether a communication gap simply exists between physicians, patients and patient families.

In the instances where physicians are negligent, they may be held accountable in court. However, evidence suggests that heightened communication at every level is the best way to prevent prescription overdose deaths before they occur.

Source: amednews.com, "Physician liability: When an overdose brings a lawsuit," Alicia Gallegos, March 4, 2013

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