Prescription Medicine Fatality
Senior Associate Jane Bulter acted on behalf of the husband whose wife passed away after an overdose of prescription medicine. We are happy to report that our client’s case settled favourably.
Our client has kindly allowed us to share his story. Pseudonyms have been used to maintain the confidence of all parties.
History of Prescription Medicine Dependence and Overdose
Marion and John were married for almost 30 years. In 2001 Marion began experiencing back pain. She was prescribed Oxycontin for relief by her then general practitioner. Over time she developed an increased reliance on prescription medicine for pain relief. This was identified and Marion was referred for specialist rehabilitation.
From 2007 a regime was in place whereby smaller quantities of Endone (and other opioid analgesics) were prescribed at more regular intervals by way of Webster packs.
In more recent years, Marion also developed autoimmune diseases which increased her pain levels. She lived with recurrent pain, which was attributable to her back pain and the autoimmune conditions.
Dr A was Marion’s long-term general practitioner. He was aware of Marion’s addiction to prescription medicine and her tendency to doctor shop. In 2015, Dr A began providing Marion with monthly prescriptions, plus ad hoc extra supplies. Marion was hospitalised in early 2016 as a result of an overdose. She was again referred for specialist rehabilitation and the Webster packs were again utilised.
On two occasions in late 2016, Dr A prescribed larger quantities of prescription medicine to Marion. This was on the basis that Marion had told Dr A she was going away to visit family interstate. Unfortunately, Marion overdosed and was again hospitalised.
On an occasion shortly before Marion’s death, Dr A had prescribed her a large quantity of Endone tablets. Marion had told Dr A that she planned to visit her aunt in Brisbane.
On the day in question, John arrived at home to find Marion unconscious. It is understood that Marion had ingested a large quantity of Endone tablets, in addition to large quantities of Oxazepam and Budesonide. Emergency services were called but Marion could not be revived.
An autopsy was conducted. The pathologist formed the view that the direct cause of Marion’s death was mixed drug toxicity.
Our client suffered multiple psychological and psychiatric symptoms as a result of the trauma he experienced.
Prior to Marion’s death, John was both domestically and financially dependent on Marion.
John’s Cause of Action
Our client’s action was brought under the mental harm provisions of the Civil Liability Act 2002 (NSW). We also sought damages in relation to loss of financial, domestic and household services pursuant to the Compensation to Relatives Act 1897 (NSW).
Our Expert Reports
We obtained expert reports from the following practitioners:
- Expert general practitioner – liability;
- Psychiatrist – liability and quantum;
- Occupational therapist – quantum; and
- Forensic accountant – quantum.
The expert general practitioner was critical of Dr A’s prescribing practices. The expert’s review found that Dr A’s prescriptions had been excessive and that they had exceeded the prescribed dosage. The expert found Dr A’s prescription management of Marion fell below the level of competent professional practice.
The expert psychiatrist indicated that the plaintiff’s depressive symptoms were consistent with a major depressive disorder. Our client presented with symptoms which were not consistent with a ‘mere’ grief reaction. Further, the expert noted our client’s disabilities left him with a lack of motivation/interest in his home duties and occupation, which resulted in a loss of earnings and a claim for domestic assistance.
If you have been a victim or suffered loss as a result of medical negligence, call us today to speak to our friendly team.