A suit was brought on behalf of 29 pain center patients who had been treated with narcotics for various injuries and became addicted. One article quoted the Chief Justice's explanation: "A plaintiff’s wrongful or immoral conduct does not prohibit them from seeking damages as the result of the actions of others."
The court recognized that most of the plaintiffs "admitted their abuse of controlled substances occurred before they sought help "at the pain clinic.
Another story said, "The justices paved the way for people to claim damages for allegedly causing or contributing to their addictions of controlled substances—even if they broke the law by doctor shopping."
In a dissenting opinion, one justice wrote that the decision “requires hardworking West Virginians to immerse themselves in the sordid details of the parties’ enterprise in an attempt to determine who is the least culpable—a drug addict or his dealer.”
In response to the ruling, the West Virginia Medical Association issued a statement: "It may cause some physicians to curb or stop treating pain altogether for fear of retribution should treatment lead to patient addiction and/or criminal behavior. It may create additional barriers for patients seeking treatment for legitimate chronic pain due to reduced access to physicians. It would allow criminals to potentially profit for their wrongful conduct by taking doctors and pharmacists to court."
A post on the American Pharmacists Association website explained that pharmacists were included in the ruling "because they were aware of the 'pill mill' activities of the medical providers. The plaintiffs said these pharmacies refilled the controlled substances too early, refilled them for excessive periods of time, filled contraindicated controlled substances, and filled 'synergistic' controlled substances."
One newspaper summarized the public reaction to the ruling in an editorial stating, "Those who are illegally abusing prescription narcotics should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The same goes for medical professionals who are found guilty of committing a criminal act. But telling a drug addict or someone who is illegally abusing prescription narcotics that it is OK to go to court and file what could very well be a frivolous lawsuit is both baffling and shameful. This ruling by the Supreme Court justices is a clear back eye for West Virginia. And it does nothing to help West Virginia’s rampant drug problem."
As I wrote last year, I think the prescription drug abuse epidemic all stems from a 15-year campaign that declared pain is the fifth vital sign—a concept which is both untrue and as we have come to learn, harmful.
I agree with the WVMA. If I were practicing in West Virginia, I would be very reluctant to prescribe narcotic pain medication to any patient.
What do you think?