As the world grieves the loss of the legendary music icon Prince, many are demanding justice for his death. The need to point the finger at someone grew after an autopsy report stated that the cause of death was an accidental overdose of fentanyl – a powerful opioid painkiller. Phrases such as “medical malpractice” and “medication error” came into play shortly after Anoka County released the medical examiner’s report. Now, Prince’s fans everywhere are asking one question: “Can the court hold Prince’s doctors liable for his death?”
Doctor Liability and Prescription Drug Overdoses
Prescription drug overdoses kill thousands of Americans every year. Sometimes autopsies attribute these deaths to drug addiction or intentional overdoses, but other times overdoses are accidental. The courts cannot hold doctors responsible for every drug overdose death, but there are cases where a doctor overprescribes a drug or fails to warn patients of the dangers or addictive nature of a drug. In these cases, the courts may categorize the overdose as “wrongful death.”
Every health care practitioner has a duty to provide patients with the best care he or she reasonably can. When a doctor prescribes medication to a patient, he or she must take due care to look at the patient’s health history and current drug prescriptions and conclude that there is a legitimate medical purpose to write the prescription. The doctor must be careful with the dosage prescribed and should only prescribe an amount that matches the patient’s medical needs.
A doctor has the legal obligation to ensure a patient is not using prescription drugs for illicit purposes. When a doctor overprescribes a drug, he or she breaks these basic codes of conduct. While a medication error can be accidental, it may also come from medical negligence. If a doctor prescribes potent painkillers to a patient without taking the proper precautions to ensure the painkillers won’t mix badly with other prescriptions or cause an adverse reaction, the courts may hold the doctor responsible for subsequent injury or death.
A court will only charge a doctor with medical malpractice if the patient or the deceased patient’s family can prove medical negligence caused the drug overdose. If, for example, a doctor overprescribes a drug but a patient dies from mixing the drug with alcohol, the courts may not find the doctor guilty of malpractice. The doctor’s negligence has to be the cause of death or injury for the courts to hold the doctor liable.
Fentanyl Toxicity and Prince’s Death
In Prince’s case, an overdose of fentanyl prescribed to him by his doctor to manage chronic pain was the cause of death. Opioids such as fentanyl are chemically synthesized opiates – related to heroin and morphine. Fentanyl imitates the brain’s pain-regulating molecules (endogenous opioids), effectively relieving pain. Unfortunately, pain relief does not come without risks.
Respiratory depression, or the inability to breathe, is one of those risks. When a patient takes painkillers chronically, he or she can suffer side effects. In Prince’s case, an overdose of fentanyl led to fentanyl toxicity – stopping Prince’s breathing and causing him to pass out and never wake up in an elevator on his property in Minnesota. There is no evidence to show that Prince had an addiction to fentanyl.
If the court investigation into Prince’s death shows that his doctor negligently overprescribed fentanyl to him, the doctor could face criminal charges. The courts could find the doctor guilty of medical malpractice or murder, as happened in the recent case involving a Texas doctor, Dr. Hsiu-Ying Tseng. For more information about medical malpractice and prescription overdose, contact the De Castroverde Law Group. Our Las Vegas medical malpractice lawyers have experience handling a wide variety of medication error lawsuits.