Opioid-Related Lawsuits Lead the Way in Medication Error Malpractice, New Report Finds

Medication errors are the fourth most common reason for medical malpractice claims, according to a new report published by the medical professional liability insurance company, Coverys. More specifically, events involving opioids accounted for 24% of medication error lawsuits, the highest percentage of medication-related claims.


These statistics are particularly troubling in light of the opioid epidemic plaguing the nation. In 2016 alone, 42,000 people died from opioid overdoses, 40% of which resulted from prescription opioids. These numbers are only increasing.

The report, which analyzed 10,000 malpractice cases between 2012-2016, found that 35% of medication-related claims arose from errors in the ordering process, the riskiest step in the medication episode of care. 31% of the claims resulted from errors in the administration of opioids and 31% of the claims occurred because of improper monitoring and management. A study published in Anesthesiology, Journal of the American Society of Anesthesiologists found that 17% of the 9,000 malpractice claims examined directly related to medication management issues. Death was the most common outcome for these patients.

Physicians frequently miss signs of substance abuse and drug-seeking behaviors present in the patient when the physicians prescribe the opioids. Furthermore, over half of the claims examined in Anesthesiology showed evidence of inadequate pain management by prescribing doctors. Examples of insufficient management include failure to monitor, failure to use urine screens for compliance, failure to obtain medical records, failure to obtain psychiatric evaluations, lack of communication with primary care physicians and detoxification centers, and poor record-keeping.

Although patient non-cooperation with care is a significant cause of medication-related deaths, inappropriate pain management by prescribing physicians is a factor that must not be ignored. Given the highly addictive nature of opioids, physicians must take special care in prescribing, monitoring and managing the patient. Failure to do so may result in medical malpractice liability.

The opioid crisis is a serious problem and doctors continue to contribute to the epidemic with negligent prescription practices. The attorneys at Abramson, Brown & Dugan have vast experience representing plaintiffs harmed by medication errors. If you or someone you know is a victim of medication-related malpractice, please contact one of our attorneys to discuss your legal rights.

Elie Maalouf