TheDepartment of Justice announced on April 17, 2019 that they had made a multi-state drug bust based on an operation utilizing a multi-agency task force. They arrested at least 60 people, many of whom were medical professionals including doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and nurse practitioners. It was alleged that they wrote prescriptions for or dispensed millions of unnecessary opioids and other drugs. Some of the behaviors involved were truly egregious.  However, one of the details alleged in a CBS News article was that a woman in Alabama was prescribed around 800 opioid painkillers known as Oxycodone over a two-month period and subsequently overdosed. Without knowing any other details and assuming that patient was an innocent victim, the question is raised as to whether this type of overprescribing can be considered medical malpractice.


What is Overprescribing?

Overprescribing is defined as providing more drugs than are necessary or in dosages that are excessive for the desired therapeutic benefit for which they are prescribed. In the case above, assuming that the Oxycodone was actually medically necessary, 800 pills over the course of two months seems excessive. The typical dosing guideline for oxycodone is one pill every four to six hours. Assuming four pills a day over 60 days, the patient was prescribed about three times the necessary amount (4 x 60 equals 240 pills as opposed to the 800 that were prescribed).


Medical Malpractice

To determine whether overprescribing can be considered medical malpractice, we must first understand what constitutes medical malpractice. Simply put, medical malpractice in Alaska is defined as when an injury sustained by a patient is due to a doctor’s negligence or willful misconduct. Alaska law requires a patient to prove:

  • The degree or knowledge or skill possessed or the degree of care ordinarily exercised under the circumstances by health care providers in the field or specialty in which the defendant is practicing
  • That the defendant either lacked this degree of knowledge or skill or failed to exercise this degree of care and
  • That as a proximate result of this lack of knowledge or skill or the failure to exercise this degree of care the plaintiff suffered injuries that would not otherwise have been incurred.

When applied to this framework, it is readily apparent that there is an expectation of medical

professionals to know how to prescribe drugs in an appropriate manner. All drugs that have been approved to be used have undergone studies to establish therapeutic doses as well as contraindications that establish when these drugs are not to be used. The degree of care that one would ordinarily use when prescribing opioids would surely preclude the prescription of so many pills at any one time. Outside of the cases announced by the Department of Justice, it is unfortunately too often that doctors commit similar acts and there is often a fine line between a therapeutic dose and a dangerous one, and doctors may be held accountable when they fail to exercise this duty of care.

In Alaska, the law makes it clear that doctors and medical professionals must exercise due care. Giving someone too many drugs or having a patient dose him or herself too frequently is dangerous, and a careful doctor should not make this kind of mistake. If you live in the Anchorage area and you have been injured by your doctor overprescribing drugs, you need to understand your options. The skilled legal professionals at Power & Power Law have decades of experience holding careless doctors accountable. Give us a call at 907-222-9990 or toll free at 833-669-9990 or click here to set up your initial consultation and let them show you how they can help you protect your rights.