Opioid analgesics have a way of getting physicians as well as patients into trouble.

These painkillers account for more medical-malpractice claims related to drug errors than any other drug class, according to a new study released today by the medical liability insurer Coverys that illustrates the far-reaching effects of the opioid abuse epidemic. The company analyzed more than 10,000 closed malpractice claims from 2012 through 2016.

Twenty-four percent of medication-related claims involved opioids, even though these drugs accounted for only about 5% of prescription drugs dispensed in 2016, according to published data from QuintilesIMS, a firm that tracks pharmaceutical activity. The next riskiest drug class identified by Coverys was anticoagulants, at 14% of medication-related claims.

In claims involving opioids, “overdoses are primarily what we see,” said study co-author Robert Hanscom, vice president of business analytics at Coverys. Some claimants also alleged that they became addicted to painkillers. In more than a third of the opioid-related claims, the mistake occurred during the follow-up phase of prescribing.

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Thirteen multi-state PDMP projects were sponsored in 2012-13. While providers indicated that PDMPs gave them more confidence for prescribing pain medication, the study concluded that the easier the data is to obtain, the more they will be used, and the safer the practice can be.

 

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services AdministrationOffice of the National Coordinator for Health IT, & MITRE Corp

Attention to patterns of prescription requests and the prescribing of opioids as part of an ongoing relationship between a patient and a healthcare provider can decrease the risk of diversion. Periodic review of state PDMP, where available, is also a useful tool to monitor compliance. Evaluation should initially include…a drug history… Documentation is essential.

February 2013 American Academy of Pain Medicine
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