Six Ways Hospitals and Pharmacies Can Prevent Liability for Over-Prescription of Opioids

A Kentucky doctor recently was convicted of illegally prescribing opioids to patients who died of overdoses. The physician was sentenced to four years and two months in prison. The defendant's attorney described him as a family man who was devoted to his medical practice. Prosecutors, however, presented evidence that the physician prescribed nearly 140,000 oxycodone pills in 2012, characterizing this as doling out prescriptions for opioids and anti-anxiety drugs despite red flags about patient abuse. Several patients died of overdoses.


See: U.S. Dept. of Justice, Western Kentucky Physician Convicted of Illegal Distribution of Controlled Substances.


Medical Risk Law: Prescription Painkillers: Risks for Patients, Pharmacists, and Physicians


What can hospitals and pharmacies do to prevent liability for the overprescribing of opioids by physicians and pharmacists?


Hospital and pharmacy risk managers may find their physicians and pharmacists potentially criminally liable for prescribing or dispensing opioids. In addition, hospital and pharmacy may be exposed to vicarious liability for the actions of the physicians and pharmacists. Developing policies and procedures to control the excess prescription of opioids by rogue doctors or pharmacists must be considered and actions taken.



The following actions are six critical ways to limiting litigation liability:


Require a second physician or pharmacist to sign off on all opioid prescriptions


Monitor all opioid prescriptions for excessive prescriptions, repeat renewals, more than one prescription to the same patient, and other “red flags”


Implement a policy for when opioids should and should not be prescribed or dispensed


Monitor compliance with policy on when opioids should and should not be prescribed or dispensed


Evaluate the hospital or pharmacy exposure to potential litigation based on vicarious liability for the actions of physicians and pharmacists



For in-depth law and medical information see:


Medical Risk Law: Compounded Drugs: Mix of Risk and Liability


In the News: Senate easily passes sweeping opioids legislation, sending to President Trump (The Washington Post; October 3, 2018; Colby Itkowitz).


Expert Analysis in the above Medical Risk Law, the monthly report on specific medical litigation topics:


How Can Physicians, Patients and the Public Be Educated Effectively on Prescription Pain Medication?
Molly Cooke, MD: President, American College of Physicians


What Methods of Pain Management Can Be Effective Along with (or Instead of) Prescription Pain Relievers?
Bob Twillman, PhD: Deputy Executive Director and Director of Policy and Advocacy, American Academy of Pain Management


How Should Physicians Monitor Patients and Keep Appropriate Documentation?
Michael A. Moroney, JD: Member, Carroll McNulty Kull


For Litigation and Discovery Documents, Checklists, Strategies, and other materials on this and other medical litigation, see Medical Risk Law.


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