If your family member died as a result of a street-drug overdose or an overdose of a prescription drug that he was not prescribed, got from a friend or bought on the street, your legal options should probably be directed toward the person who supplied the drug to your loved one. If you know the identity of this person, you can call the police and attempt to hold the person accountable through the criminal justice system. If the medication was a prescription drug that was diverted to street use or sale because a physician runs a "pill mill" or does not carefully screen patients before prescribing narcotics, there have been occasions where we have undertaken representation of a family where we could prove (1) that the drug came from the physician known to run a "pill mill" and (2) that the physician knew or should have known that medications he was prescribing were being diverted to street use.
Toxicity, literally means poisoning. When a person ingests too much of a drug or other substance, it can become toxic to them, and cause death. If the cause of death listed is drug toxicity, the medical examiner determined that the amounts of drugs found in the body post-mortem were sufficient to cause death and the likely cause of death.
There can be several reasons a person dies suddenly, but most often, a cardiac problem, or a blood clot is suspected. A person can die suddenly if he had an arrythmia that caused his heart to beat so inefficiently that the organs were deprived of oxygen. A person can die suddenly when a blood clot breaks loose in the body and travels to the brain, the lungs or the heart. A person can die suddenly from a rupture of a vessel, or a bleed inside the body (such as an aneurysm). When a person dies suddenly, and the death was unexpected (the person did not have terminal cancer), laws in most states provide for an autopsy to be performed, which can help determine the cause of death.
It is possible. Only an autopsy and complete toxicology study can tell you for sure. If your family member died after starting a new medication, this is very important information to share with the medical examiner and pathologist who performs the autopsy. If you don't share this information with them, they may not test the blood and tissue for toxic levels of the drug. Toxicology studies performed post-mortem do not attempt to test for every known substance in the person's blood and tissue. This would involve thousands and thousands of substances. Talk to your medical examiner about your concerns.
It could mean several things, but it is often the pattern seen in drug deaths caused by respiratory depression. When a person ingests too much of certain drugs or medications, the drugs can slow down the part of the brain that tells the lungs to breathe. People who die of respiratory depression typically are sleepy and lethargic, and brething heavily for several hours before they are found dead.
Most people would like to think so. But sometimes the answer is "no." Sometimes a person has a reaction to a drug that is not the normal reaction. A person might be extremely sensitive to a drug that is usually safe for others. Another problem occurs when doctors are not well-educated about the drugs they prescribe. Some doctors do not understand the pharmacology of the drugs they prescribe-- they may not understand its half-life for example, which prevents the doctor from prescribing the drug in safe amounts. You should expect your doctor to be educated about the drugs he prescribes. Several doctors in recent years have prescribed drugs like methadone, oxycontin and fentanyl in excessive amounts, causing the deaths of patients.
Yes. Drugs are well-studied in clinical trials before they are put on the market, and for most people, prescription drugs can be safely dosed. Physicians have several resources available to them to assist them in understanding how to safely dose a patient with a prescription drug. We beleive that if a physician chooses to prescribe a medication, he or she has the responsibility to understand the medication, how it acts on the body, how it accumulates in the body, how it is eliminated from the body, and how it might interact with other medications the patient is taking. But sometimes doctors prescribe the wrong drugs, or the wrong doses, and that causes problems.
Patients should take responsibility for their own health. They should promptly seek medical attention when they are sick, and follow the phsyician's instructions about how to take their medications. But no patient should have to leave the doctor's office, only to go home and research to make sure the doctor have her the right medication at the right dose. Patients rely on their doctors to have superior knowledge about medications, drug interactions, the patient's own health history and condition, and safe dosing.
Often, families wonder why a doctor or pharmacy would give a large quantity of medication to patients, some of whom have a history of drug abuse or a history of using too many medications. Sometimes this practice is acceptable, and sometimes it is negligent. A lawyer can review the case with a physician or pharmacist and advise you about your specific situation.
There are records at the prescribing doctor's office that show what medication was ordered. This information should at least match the information on the front of the bottle, and in the pharmacy's records, or on the computer printout of the medications filled. But even if those things match, the pill in the bottle could be a different medication than the one listed on the bottle. A neutral physician or pharmacist should be able to help you identify the pill. There are actually drug books with photos that can help them do that. If the police took the pill bottle when they came to the house after a death, they likely gave it to the medical examiner. Call the medical examiner about your concerns, and she can confirm what was in the bottle.
Make sure there is an autopsy, and make sure the medical examiner or pathologist who performs the autopsy knows what medications your family member was using. Be especially vigilant about providing information about new medications the patient just started taking before he died.
If your family member died as a result of a doctor, hospital, clinic's or pharmacist's error, there are several ways you can help prevent this from happening again.
First, report the death to the proper licensing bodies. This might be the pharmacy, nursing or medical board in your state. It might be the state division that regulates hospitals, nursing homes and rehab facilities in your state. It might be the accreditation bodies for those institutions, such as JCAHO or CARF. If you are confused about who to call to report this death, feel free to email us, and we will be happy to steer you in the right direction for your state.
If the death involved methadone from a methadone clinic, report the death to the state methadone authority and to SAMHSA. The following links will help you find where to report these deaths.
For a list of state methadone authorities: www.nasadad.org/resource.php?doc_id=1586
If your family member died because of the error of a physician, pharmacist or clinic, consider talking to a lawyer. There are options a lawyer can discuss with you to help change the number of deaths in your state, including working with licensing boards, the medical society and the legislative body to make meaningful changes.
Finally, you might consider talking to a lawyer about whether a lawsuit would be effective in changing a dangerous practice and saving lives.
This is a dangerous practice. Sometimes people die because they mix drugs that shouldn't mix. Sometimes people die because doctors prescribe too much of a medication or prescribe the wrong medications together. The only way to find out what happened in a particular situation is to have the records reviewed by a lawyer who can advise you whether a pharmacy, physician or clinic was negligent.
Lawyers spend much more time giving advice to families to helping families deal with legal issues, than they do filing lawsuits. If you just want to ask a couple of questions, or tell your story, that is fine. Let us know, and we will be glad to talk with you or exchange a few emails.
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While we can't say definitively that a lawsuit filed in the future in your case will save others' lives, we can say that this is the ultimate goal of our law firm. We are aware of several cases in which physicians have changed prescribing practices and their physical examinations of patients as a result of lawsuits filed by our lawyers. We have worked with pharmacies, Pharmacy Boards, Medical Societies, Methadone Authorities and other state agencies to educate and push for change. At our firm, we believe that historically, lawsuits have led to life-saving changes in American industries and among medical providers. Seat belts, gun safety latches, smoke alarms, sprinkler systems, air bags and myriad other improvements in our society have resulted from lawsuits. GIve us a call. Let's change things.