Who hasn’t read the news stories about the opioid epidemic? Opioids in pill or patch form are usually cheaper than heroin, easier to take (no needles or apparatus), and as close as the nearest medical professional who will prescribe them without adequate scrutiny. But it’s possible you haven’t heard about fentanyl, one of a class of drugs that is often abused these days in the U.S. Not only that, it’s much more deadly than OxyContin—or even heroin.
Fentanyl—Good When Used Appropriately
Fentanyl has a legitimate purpose in surgical use, especially for post-surgical pain, and for cancer pain, as it is a strong opioid. The word opioid arises from opium, a natural but highly addictive substance extracted from the opium poppy. Opium is a potent pain reliever. Morphine, which comes from opium, is an example of a legal yet highly restricted natural opioid painkiller. However, heroin, which is created by processing morphine chemically, is illegal.
For many decades our society had only natural opioids at our disposal for intense pain, when we had anything at all. These days, we have synthetic opioids, such as OxyContin and Vicodin. Fentanyl, also known as Duragesic and available in patch form, is a synthetic opioid as well.
Most synthetic opioids are creating a new menace of addiction, partly because some doctors prescribe them carelessly, quickly hooking patients. The fentanyl pain patch can be especially risky for some because, in addition to being highly addictive, the dosage can be difficult to calculate.
Why Take Fentanyl?
In some locales that have been hard-hit by the opioid epidemic, the prices are rising while the availability has dropped due to legal and regulatory scrutiny. Some of the folks addicted to synthetic opioids have found their way into heroin addiction, but others have gravitated to fentanyl. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rise of the amount of illegal fentanyl confiscated by the DEA between 2012 and 2014 has also raised concerns that the risks of fentanyl overdoses are increasing as well.
Fentanyl is available in pill form and as a patch.
Why So Deadly?
The physical effects of fentanyl are like those of any other opioid: Too much will depress your respiratory system, meaning that your breathing slows until it stops altogether, and you die. Such drugs do not kill you by stopping your heart—instead, you stop breathing. Some have characterized this process as “a slow spiral towards death.”
But the biggest reason fentanyl is so deadly is because it is between 50 and 100 times more powerful than morphine and 25 to 50 more times more potent than heroin. Take a moment to digest those figures, especially the heroin one. Fentanyl is off-the-charts strong.
Simply put, those who go from oxycodone or even heroin to fentanyl may not know how much more potent the drug is. They take it, seeking relief from their addiction, only to end up a statistic. Approximately 18,000 people died of all opioids in 2014, with an additional 8,000 dying from heroin. While the fentanyl fatality numbers are unknown, all the opioid fatality numbers are climbing alarmingly in North America.
There is one final reason for fentanyl overdoses: The drug on the street is often cut with heroin or with various synthetic opioids. Therefore, an addict cannot know what is truly in the pill they take, or how powerful their pill is, if they buy it illegally. Thus the situation is different than with prescription pills whose dosage is strictly regulated. For that reason, street fentanyl can be much more deadly than that obtained by a prescription.
The Malpractice Aspect
In a November, 2016, case, a Mobile, Alabama, doctor is facing federal charges due to the death of the guitarist for the band three doors down. The doctor has been indicted for illegal drug distribution. The guitarist, Matt Roberts, was found dead in August of a prescription drug overdose. The court affidavit alleges that Roberts was given two prescriptions on the same evening, one for fentanyl patches and one for Narco, which is a combination of acetaminophen and hydrocodone (Vicodin).
In a 2014 case that specifically involved the fentanyl pain patch, a family filed suit because the doctor allegedly improperly prescribed the fentanyl patch for her chronic back pain. The Honolulu medical examiner stated that the victim died from the effects of having both fentanyl and Tramadol, another painkiller, in her system at the same time. It is claimed that both the pharmacy and the doctor failed to recognize her known lack of tolerance for opioids.
In a 2013 Michigan car crash, two sisters died because the man behind the wheel of the other vehicle admitted to “chewing on a fentanyl patch.” Both the doctor who prescribed the patch and the pharmacy that filled the prescription are being sued in the case for their alleged parts in the sisters’ deaths.
Malpractice claims arising from mismanaging chronic pain are increasing, according to an analysis of closed cases that were presented at the conference “Anesthesiology 2014” in New Orleans. If you believe you have experienced medical malpractice related to fentanyl or other opioids, whether as a taker of the drug or as someone otherwise harmed by the drug, we hope you’ll seek legal assistance.
A Skilled and Caring Medical Malpractice Attorney Can Help You
Patients expect their healthcare providers, including their pharmacists, to use common sense and prescribe or dispense the appropriate medication and accurate dosage to treat medical conditions. Due to the negligence of doctors, pharmacists, nurses, and other medical specialists, there have been many cases of patients who suffered serious physical harm as a result of medication errors, including the overprescribing of opioids. Consider this: By reporting your medication error, you may be saving other innocent patients from serious injuries, addiction, and possible fatalities.
An experienced medical malpractice attorney such as Maryland attorney Steven H. Heisler will be able to listen to the facts of your case, conduct a thorough investigation, and help you devise a legal strategy for obtaining compensation for your injuries. Due to the involvement of insurance companies and defendants who can afford a strong legal team, it’s a good idea to equip yourself with an attorney who has extensive experience when it comes to medical malpractice. Not every medical malpractice claim will hold up in court. However, the only way to determine this is through a thorough case review.
If you or a loved one has suffered as the result of what you believe to be medical malpractice, contact the Law Offices of The Injury Lawyer, Steven H. Heisler, today for a free initial consultation about whether you have a case. Call (410) 625-4878, or use our online contact form.