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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Doctors Face Criminal Charges

Every year people die from overdosing on the prescribed medications, typically pain killers. In the past no one would have blamed anyone but the patient; abusing one's medication is dangerous and potentially fatal. The times are changing and doctors who prescribe medications that are involved in an overdose are now being held responsible. The number is small, but is growing especially after the death of Michael Jackson and the charges of involuntary manslaughter on his doctor Conrad Murray. There is no doubt about whether or not accidents happen, people on prescribed medications sometimes drink and have a reaction or they take too much by accident. But in most overdose cases substance abuse was a factor and in some cases doctors continued to prescribe despite evidence of addiction. There have been an estimated 37 reported criminal cases against doctors between 2001 and 2011, according to Reuters.

Prosecuting doctors may be a slippery slope because every case is different and there is no agreed upon standard to refer to. The doctor's role is to believe their patients when they complain of a problem and to provide care by treating the problem. Sometimes care requires narcotics and many doctors are not trained in identifying a substance abuse problem. The case of Michael Jackson was strange in a number of ways, but Dr. Murray did not violate the Controlled Substances Act. He administered propofol, an anesthetic that is not a controlled substance. Prosecutors claim that Murray breached the standard of care when he administered the drug to Jackson at home - gross negligence caused a fatality.

“Doctors are not supposed to be law enforcement agents. They’re supposed to believe their patients,” said Diane Hoffmann, a law professor at the University of Maryland School of Law. Crooked doctors exist, singling them out is extremely challenging. It would be sad if innocent doctors get charged with crimes for overdose cases they had no control over.

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