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Health Care Providers and Pharmaceutical Distributors Should Heed These Warnings to Reduce the Risk of an Opioid-Related Lawsuit

The national opioid crisis has triggered an avalanche of lawsuits around the country. Pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors are often among the named defendants, but other entities are also at risk. The wide variety of claims that figure in these lawsuits means that all health care industry participants should evaluate their risk of being subjected to an opiate-related claim. Many of these suits are being consolidated into multidistrict litigation (MDL), while others are being handled as individual claims.

Here are several recommended action items based on the claims and facts alleged in many of the opioid-related lawsuits consolidated in the Opiate Litigation MDL:

For health care providers writing prescriptions:Doctors with Prescription
  • Examine how many opioid prescriptions your organization writes per year compared to the national average (58.7 prescriptions per 100 persons in 2017[1])
  • Examine how often your organization relies upon information provided by paid speakers or industry-funded entities regarding a particular pharmaceutical treatment
  • Examine your organization's protocol for prescribing and maintaining opioid prescriptions, including how recently it has been updated, how often it has been complied with, and whether it takes into account provider specialties and privileges, and different patient populations
For pharmaceutical distributors:
  • Examine how many opioid prescription pills your organization distributes per year compared to the size of the local population and determine whether this number is unusually high
  • Examine how often your organization reports suspicious orders of controlled substances, including orders of unusual size, orders deviating substantially from a normal pattern, and orders of unusual frequency
  • Examine how often your organization investigates and refuses to fill suspicious orders
  • Examine your organization's protocol for detecting, investigating, reporting and refusing to fill suspicious orders, including how recently it has been updated, whether it makes allowance for the provider's profession or specialty, whether it provides for different patient populations, and whether it has been complied with

[1] The national average for prescribing opioid prescriptions can be found at the website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/maps/rxrate-maps.html. You can also find more specific prescribing data in the County where you work through the CDC's 2017 U.S. County Prescribing Rates map at https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/maps/rxcounty2017.html.

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