If your loved one died of an overdose, you have legal rights. A family who loses a loved one to an overdose might be able to go after money damages from the drug treatment center and the patient’s primary care clinician. If either entity committed medical negligence that caused or contributed to the death, there could be liability.
Alcohol and drug addiction are diseases no one should take lightly. Primary care clinicians, like general practice doctors and physician assistants, must educate themselves on the relevant information needed to adequately treat their patients with diagnosed substance abuse or dependence disorders.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) publishes guidelines for primary care clinicians and special substance abuse treatment programs. The guidelines include treatment protocols for doctors and drug treatment facilities to follow when providing patient care. Failure to follow the guidelines can be medical negligence.
Patient Care Protocols for Drug Treatment Centers
Every patient in a drug treatment center should have clearly stated short-term and long-term treatment goals. The specific goals should address these three general issues:
- To achieve a drug-free life by reducing the amount of substance abuse
- To maximize the patient’s ability to function in multiple aspects of life
- To prevent a relapse or lessen the severity and frequency of relapses
The drug treatment center should have a detailed plan for how to achieve these goals in each patient’s medical file. The facility needs to perform a thorough assessment of the patient to determine the treatment approaches that have the highest likelihood of success.
SAMHSA guidelines list these steps as appropriate care for a patient with substance abuse or dependence issues:
- In addition to thorough intake assessments, the facility should repeat the evaluations as often as needed to measure the patient’s changing needs, including acute withdrawal symptoms and medical crises.
- Identify all the risks of treatment for the individual patient and create a treatment plan that addresses the goals and risks.
- Monitor the patient’s clinical status and progress frequently through urine or other biological testing, counseling sessions, group meetings, physical examinations, and other appropriate measures.
- Educate the patient and close loved ones so that they understand the prognosis for the disorder and the benefits and risks of the prescribed treatment. The facility should obtain informed consent for all medical treatments, particularly potentially risky procedures.
The treatment center should not use a “one size fits all” approach. The treatment plan should get tailored to the individual patient and his needs. SAMHSA identifies these groups as special populations who might need different treatment programs:
- Homeless people
- Elderly individuals
- Pregnant and postpartum mothers
- Drinking drivers
- Children of alcoholics
Sometimes specialized treatment programs achieve a higher rate of success for these groups. The drug treatment center should evaluate each patient individually to determine the most appropriate plan. The facility should not generalize when treating patients, and instead should individualize care and treatment plans.
If the drug treatment center does not follow proper safety protocols, including frequent monitoring and reassessment of the patient, the facility might be guilty of neglect or carelessness. Failure to prevent or notice a medical crisis and get emergency medical care can result in an overdose death.
The Responsibilities of a Primary Care Clinician to a Patient with Addiction Issues
A primary care doctor or physician’s assistant cannot satisfy the NIH/SAMHSA protocols by merely referring the patient with a diagnosed substance abuse or dependence disorder to a drug treatment center. The clinician has a duty to evaluate the quality of the facilities before entrusting patients to their care.
Some drug treatment centers follow the established protocols, but because of the burgeoning scale of the substance abuse crisis in our country, many disreputable establishments have popped up. A doctor should not rely on a glossy brochure or sales pitch. The clinician should check the safety record and treatment success rates of the centers.
When a patient has symptoms suggestive of a drug problem or has a positive screening, the primary care clinician should:
- Confirm the substance abuse pattern, including quantity, frequency, and duration
- Find out how many times during the last 12 months, the patient has experienced health, legal, or social problems related to drug use
- Evaluate the patient’s treatment history for psychiatric and substance abuse issues
- Review the patient’s medical conditions, pregnancy status, and medications
After this initial assessment, if the primary care clinician diagnoses or suspects a substance-related problem, the doctor should decide between brief intervention and an in-depth assessment. If the patient agrees to specialized treatment, the physician can become part of the collaborative treatment team, or at least continue to treat medical conditions during treatment and provide monitoring and follow-up care after treatment.
We know how devastating it can be to lose a loved one to a drug overdose. If medical negligence led to the death of your loved one, a lawyer can help you go after compensation for your losses.
Pintas & Mullins Wants to Help With Your Medical Malpractice Case
If your loved one died of an overdose, you have legal rights. Let us fight for you. Call Pintas & Mullins today at (888) 808-5977 to get started. The initial consultation is at no charge, and there is no obligation.