The Centers for Disease Control issued a report on July 2, 2013, documenting an alarming rise in deaths of women from too much pain medication. Prescription painkillers caused the premature deaths of more than 6,000 women in 2010. To put that in context, in the first decade of this century the rate of female deaths, which is still less than men, increased 400%; men had a 265% increase.
This can only be described as an epidemic, and while personal injury law firms, including those like ours in Jacksonville, naturally focus a lot of attention on car accidents, the CDC study finds that since 2007 more women died from drug overdoses than from auto accidents.
The CDC release provides advice for both doctors and patients, however, a recent, and surprising, complication faces the families of patients and law firms representing them in evaluating whether drug manufacturers can be held liable for deaths from prescription painkillers. When the question is whether proper warnings were provided by the pharmaceutical manufacturer, a quirk in the law, aided by some quirky U.S. Supreme Court decisions, is that brand name manufacturers who provide inadequate warnings can be held liable for failing to change the FDA-approved warning to protect patient safety (Wyeth v. Levine), but, oddly, generic manufacturers cannot be held liable for failing to change warnings to protect patients (Mutual v. Barnett). This is important since over 75% of drug prescriptions are filled with generics instead of brand name drugs. The FDA is in the beginning stages of addressing this “preemption” problem.
Besides the prescribing physician and the drug company, another factor to be investigated when such deaths occur is whether there was fault on the part of a pharmacist or pharmacy that are involved in filling the prescription.
NY Times article: Sharp Rise in Women’s Deaths From Overdose of Painkillers