Overdosed by a Medical Assistant - Chronic Pain Patients Beware!
(Austin, Texas). Chronic pain management requires many avenues of treatment and pain management including IVs of powerful pain medications such as opioids. Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, and many others. Opioids are commonly used for the treatment of pain following injury, surgery and for chronic pain. Non-medical use, prolonged use, misuse and use without medical supervision can lead to opioid dependence and other health problems.
Due to their pharmacological effects, opioids can cause breathing difficulties, and opioid overdose can lead to sudden death. According to the World Health Organization, worldwide, about 0.5 million deaths are attributable to drug use' more than 70% of these deaths are related to opioids, with more than 30% of those deaths caused by overdose. Opioids are routinely used in pain management clinics on chronic pain patients. Due to the highly toxic and deadly nature, opioids must be administered only by an anesthesiologist or specialized nurse with advanced training known as a nurse anesthetist.
Pain management is big business in the United States with as much as 20% of the US adult population seeking treatment for pain. Pain management doctors earn a healthy income at hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and join with other pain management doctors to open clinics earning millions of dollars a year off people's pain. Its lucrative with endless potential. Few patients ever experience lasting relief from chronic pain so they go back for years and even their lifetime for treatment.
With the opportunity for big bucks comes the element of greed and abuse. Most state laws prohibit pain management doctors from delegating the duty of administering powerful drugs to hourly medical assistants, but unfortunately some do to increase profits. A clinic can earn more money per patient if the pain management doctor does not have to sit and watch one patient at a time. Instead, the clinic can have a $15.00 an hour employee administer the pain medication and sit with the patient, while the pain management doctor is off doing other things. Doctors who engage in this practice bill the patient for their supervision which can range from $400 to $1000 as compared to the hourly medical assistant's rate of $15.00 an hour. This is on top of the bill for just chatting to the patient a few minutes before the procedure which can be a separate billing code entry. The obvious danger of this practice is that a medical assistant does not have the skill, experience, or training to determine if a patient is experiencing problems during the treatment. Opioids suppress breathing and, if a patient's breathing slows to the danger zone, the medical assistant may not know or understand when this is a problem, which could lead to death.
Pain management using opioids should only be administered by a qualified pain management doctor or nurse with specialized training.
If you or someone you know has experienced an overdose at the hands of a medical assistant during a pain management or other medical procedure, you should immediately report the pain management to the state's board of medical examiners. You can also consult with a medical malpractice attorney to discuss your experience.
Stephanie Sherman of Sherman Law, P.C. is an experienced personal injury attorney who is presently pursuing medical malpractice cases against negligent anesthesiologists and pain management doctors and Clinics.