A Landmark Legal Decision about Painkillers
The West Virginia Supreme Court recently issued a landmark ruling. Their decision, simple as it may seem, has opened the floodgates for doctor accountability and possible manipulation of the legal system.
I’m talking about West Virginia’s decision to allow patients to sue pharmacies and doctors for negligently prescribing opioid painkillers and “enabling addiction.”
The court’s decision isn’t without its fair share of opponents and criticism. We’ll touch on that below, but first let’s look at what spurred this recent legal ruling.
Doctor Sanctioned Addictions
The Mountain Medical Center may be nothing but a name to you or I, but for twenty-nine West Virginia residents it was the center of hell.
At least that’s what a recent lawsuit alleges. These twenty-nine former patients filed a class action suit against the Mountain Medical Center, its doctors, and several pharmacies.
They sought treatment after work or car related injuries and were, allegedly, overprescribed powerful painkillers.
The FBI shut down Mountain Medical Center in 2010. During their investigation of the clinic, they found ample evidence of over prescription and improperly prescribing controlled substances.
The crooked pill mill doctors include Katherine Hoover, the one time top prescriber of opioid painkillers in West Virginia. They also include Dr. William Ryckman and other clinic doctors and managers. Several of those named in the suit were already sentenced to federal prison.
It’s also worth noting that many of the former patients admitted to struggling with addiction in the past. They admitted this to Mountain Medical Center staff and were prescribed oxycodone, hydrocodone, and other powerful opioids. Something doesn’t quite add up.
Arguments Against the Ruling
As mentioned above, there have been a fair share of arguments raised against West Virginia’s recent Supreme Court ruling. These range from mild to severe denouncements of culpability.
Critics say that juries are now going to have to sort through complicated and unpleasant situations to decide who’s most at fault – doctors or addicts. Critics also noted other states have adopted similar legal practices, but with something called a wrongful conduct rule.
This is basically an asterisk placed next to allowing patients to sue medical professionals. It disqualifies patients who are doctor shopping and engaged in other criminal activity from suing for negligent prescribing.
The West Virginia Medical Association weighed in on the ruling. They issued the following statement,
“It may cause some physicians to curb or stop treating pain altogether for fear of retribution should treatment lead to patient addiction and/or criminal behavior. It may create additional barriers for patients seeking treatment for legitimate chronic pain due to reduced access to physician. It would allow criminals to potentially profit for their wrongful conduct by taking doctors and pharmacists to court” (WorldNow News).
Is This Ruling Good or Bad?
What’s the final verdict? Does allowing patients to sue their doctor or pharmacy do more good or bad? Is it a step forward in patient empowerment or a loophole allowing criminals to profit?
Well, it all depends on the individual case. Unfortunately, there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer. In some cases, giving patients the right to take crooked doctors to court is a great tool. In others, it allows addicts to place blame on others and manipulate the system.
Regardless of particular situations, this ruling will require a lot of oversight. There needs to be participation from local police and healthcare providers, the DEA, the FBI, and all other agencies that monitor prescription drug data.
Basically, allowing patients to sue doctors and pharmacies will be difficult to pull off. Ultimately, I believe, it’s a positive shift towards stemming this country’s opioid dependence.
Will it fix everything overnight? Not a chance. It will, however, begin to empower ordinary citizens. It’ll allow men and women an opportunity to fight back against overprescribing physicians and that, my friends, is priceless.