When prescription medicine hurts instead of helps the patient

Doctors, nurses, hospitals and pharmacists have the duty to see that medication is prescribed carefully and appropriately, filled accurately and administered correctly. The stakes couldn't be higher: prescription mistakes can cause injury, death and addiction.

Medical professionals are expected to adhere to the reasonable standards and practices of others within in their specialties in their communities. Failure to do so may open them up to medical malpractice liability.

Patient screening

In contemplation of writing a prescription, a physician must adequately screen the patient enough to reasonably conclude that the drug is appropriate and safe for that individual.

For example, before prescribing medication, a doctor should interview the patient about his or her health history, current symptoms and other medications being taken, both over the counter and prescription, to avoid potentially dangerous drug interactions. The doctor should conduct any necessary physical examinations and order any lab or other tests that would uncover any reason the prescription should not be written.

Patient counseling

The physician needs to thoroughly counsel the patient about how to take the medication and about potential side effects to watch out for, especially those that could cause serious injury or be potentially fatal. And of course, scripts must be carefully issued for the correct medication and in the correct dosage for the individual patient's needs.

Similarly, nurses, pharmacies and hospital staff must follow reasonable, accepted procedures in filling or administering medication to patients.

It is in everyone's best interest when the health professional thoroughly documents the patient's chart about what was discussed and any related exams and tests that were performed. If appropriate, the medical professional should schedule a follow up appointment.

Dangerous medications

The stakes are even higher when the prescription medication is potentially addictive or particularly dangerous if taken in a way contrary with the doctor or pharmacist's instructions, including overdosing. Such medications are often prescribed to relieve pain and may be controlled substances or narcotics like opioids, analgesics, depressants, sleep aids, stimulants and more.

Of course, with these categories of medications, the medical workup and interview should carefully consider mental health issues. Doctors have many resources to assist them in fulfilling their professional duties when prescribing these types of strong medications. For example, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the American Medical Association all provide advice about how to screen patients for the potential tendency toward abuse, addiction or suicide, and how to spot patients who "doctor shop" for multiple prescriptions.

In some situations, even a lab test for already ingested drugs might be appropriate, such as a urine screen.

Informed legal counsel

Anyone harmed by a prescribed medication or who has a loved one hurt or who died in relation to a prescription should seek the counsel of an experienced dangerous drug attorney. A knowledgeable personal injury lawyer can provide education and advice about rights, possibly responsible parties and potential legal remedies available in such a tragic situation.