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Is Malpractice Causing Rising Fentanyl Deaths?

When most people think of the abuse of prescription drugs in the United States, painkillers like Oxycontin, or the misuse of drugs like Vicodin, probably come to mind. And while the abuse of these drugs is serious and should by no means be downplayed, and while over-prescribing these drugs may very well result in a medical malpractice cause of action, a new killer – deadlier and stronger than heroin –is taking lives across the nation. Fentanyl, which is the most powerful painkiller available for medical treatment, is now killing more people than heroin, and it is hypothesized that deaths from fentanyl could exceed AIDS deaths that occurred in the 1990s.

The Dangers of Fentanyl

fentanyl prescriptions

Often called China White or Apache, fentanyl is an odorless white powder that resembles heroin. However, while it may look like heroin, it is much more dangerous; just a few grains of the powder can be enough to kill a person.

Despite its high risks, fentanyl has been used to treat pain the United States since the 1960s, and continues to be prescribed to patients today. The fentanyl epidemic in the United States, then, is contributed to by both legal sources – i.e. prescriptions from doctors in hospitals – as well as illegal sources (drug cartels). Another concern is the diversion of fentanyl by hospital staff members.

Fentanyl Diversion and Patient Risk

Fentanyl “diversion” refers to the illegal acquire and use of the substance. According to a report published by the New York Department of Health, diversion typically occurs by hospital staff members as a result of substituting the drug for another medication, theft, under-dosing patients undergoing surgery, and falsifying medical and medication distribution records.

Fentanyl diversion is, of course, illegal, but it may also be an act of medical malpractice as well, as it is negligent, and creates a hazard for patients. If a death is to occur that resulted from the illegal diversion of fentanyl, the hospital must prove that it was not the source of the fentanyl.

Further, hospital staff members involved in the diversion of fentanyl may also expose patients to, and transmit, diseases like HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. Consider the story of Rocky Allen, a surgical tech who removed a fentanyl syringe from an anesthesia workstation, and replaced it with another syringe, at a Colorado hospital. In doing so, Mr. Allen put countless patients at risk of infection, and at least two patients may have been infected with hepatitis, according to an article in Outpatient Surgery.

Working with an Experienced Malpractice Attorney

Again, the problem of fentanyl as it relates to healthcare is multifaceted: first, hospitals may be over-prescribing the drug; second, employees may be stealing and distributing the drug; and third, employees infected with diseases may be putting patients at risk of infection through fentanyl diversion. If you believe that fentanyl malpractice has occurred, our experienced medical malpractice attorneys can help you to build a claim. To schedule your free consultation with us today, call us directly or fill out our online form.

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