Henry Carus + Associates | Injury Lawyers

Overprescription & Overmedication: Major Problems with Potentially Deadly Results

Doctor overprescribing medications, holding multiple pill samples | Henry Carus + Associates

Medication errors are a well-established part of medical negligence litigation. Usually they centre around issues such as prescribing the wrong medication and/or the wrong dosage, dispensing the wrong medication, etc.

But what if the thought process used by medical professionals to prescribe drugs is flawed, resulting in widespread overprescription and overmedication? At Henry Carus + Associates, we often see clients who are overprescribed medications with very serious side effects. Our lawyers are prepared to argue that injuries caused by overprescription are the result of medical negligence.

Has someone prescribed you a combination of drugs that just don’t work? Did you or someone you love suffer harm due to overprescription or overmedication? Call Henry Carus + Associates at 03 9001 1318 today for a FREE, no-obligation consultation. Our medication error lawyers serve clients in Melbourne and throughout VIC.

The Devastating Toll of Overprescription

Research published by the Brownstone Institute paints a dire picture of overmedication, boldly citing prescription drugs as the leading cause of death in the United States. Although the statistics are focussed on the United States, the article identifies a number of serious issues that also apply to the communities of Victoria and Australia as a whole:

  • Patients are often prescribed multiple drugs with little concern for interactions or contraindications.
  • Deaths from prescription drugs are underreported, especially when they occur outside of a hospital or other clinical setting.
  • Hospitals, coroners, and pathologists frequently misclassify deaths that may be linked to adverse drug events or fail to consider the potential role of prescription medications.
  • Psychiatric drugs (including neuroleptics, benzodiazepines, and depression drugs) are especially dangerous, particularly in elderly patients.
    • The Brownstone Institute states that psychiatric drugs are the third leading cause of U.S. deaths.
  • Drug trials are frequently rushed and biased, with medications going to market with an inadequate understanding of long-term adverse effects.

Prescription drug deaths are largely preventable. This includes both fatal adverse events and accidental deaths due to medication side effects (such as falls, motor vehicle accidents, etc.).

What Are the Problems With Overmedication?

Medical practitioners have a duty to carefully evaluate each patient’s medical history, consider potential risks and benefits of medications, and regularly review and adjust treatment plans as necessary. When they fail in this duty, the consequences can be catastrophic.

Serious problems associated with overmedication include:

  • Adverse reactions: Taking too many medications can increase the risk of adverse drug reactions. Different medications may interact with each other in unpredictable ways, leading to side effects that can range from mild discomfort to serious health complications.
  • Polypharmacy: This term refers to the simultaneous use of multiple medications by a single individual. Polypharmacy can increase the risk of medication errors, drug interactions, and non-adherence to treatment plans.
  • Drug interactions: When multiple medications are taken together, there is a higher likelihood of drug interactions. Some drugs can interfere with the absorption, metabolism, or elimination of others, potentially reducing their effectiveness or increasing their toxicity.
  • Reduced quality of life: Side effects from medications can significantly impact a person’s quality of life, leading to symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, nausea, and cognitive impairment (to name only a few). This can affect patients’ ability to perform daily activities and may decrease overall well-being.
  • Dependency and addiction: Some medications, particularly those with addictive potential such as opioids or benzodiazepines, can lead to dependency or addiction if used excessively or for prolonged periods.
  • Masking underlying issues: Overmedication may mask underlying health issues by treating symptoms rather than addressing the root cause of the problem. This can delay proper diagnosis and treatment of underlying conditions.

The effects of overmedication need to be taken seriously. Seemingly minor symptoms (such as dizziness or fatigue) can have disastrous repercussions. Examples include loss of balance and equilibrium (which increase the risk of a fall), drowsiness and confusion (which can lead to a road accident), and other issues that can result in accidental injury—or even death.

Why Do Doctors Overprescribe?

Doctors and other medical practitioners may overprescribe medications for several different reasons:

  • Limited time for patient consultations: In busy healthcare settings, doctors may have limited time to fully assess patients’ medical history, symptoms, and needs. As a result, they may resort to prescribing medications as a quick solution without thoroughly exploring alternative treatments or lifestyle modifications.
  • Financial incentives: Pharmaceutical companies often provide doctors with incentives or bonuses based on the number of prescriptions they write, or the revenue generated from pharmaceutical sales. This can create a conflict of interest and incentivise overprescribing.
  • Limited access to non-pharmaceutical treatments: Access to non-pharmacological treatments such as counselling, physical therapy, alternative therapies, etc. may be limited or unavailable in certain areas. In such cases, doctors may rely more heavily on medications as the primary treatment option.
  • Diagnostic uncertainty: Diagnosing medical conditions can be complex, and doctors may sometimes prescribe medications based on their best clinical judgement—even in the absence of a definitive diagnosis. This approach, known as empirical treatment, is sometimes necessary but can result in overprescribing if not carefully monitored.
  • Fear of litigation: Doctors may prescribe medications defensively to avoid potential lawsuits. This can lead to overprescribing to reassure patients or to mitigate perceived legal risks.

These are systemic issues that will require concerted effort on the part of the medical establishment to overcome. In the meantime, patients need to be vigilant about their care and advocate for themselves to avoid overmedication.

How Do You Handle Medication Errors?

More and more people are becoming concerned about the overuse of prescription drugs and errors in prescribing and dispensing medication. If you share these concerns, it is imperative that you speak up.

‘You have a right to take an active role in your health care, and to participate in decisions about your treatment. You have the right to refuse treatment…’

Australian Charter of Healthcare Rights in Victoria

The right to refuse treatment includes the right to decline medication and explore suitable alternatives. Doctors are required to respect your beliefs and preferences, as well as provide you with ‘clear, understandable information’ regarding ‘treatment options, expected outcomes, [and] side effects’. You also have the right to get a second opinion.

How a Lawyer Can Help

Whether you suffered an adverse drug event or were injured due to effects that may have been attributable to medications you were taking, it is important to consider your legal rights as well. Henry Carus + Associates are leading the way in personal injury litigation around issues of overprescription and overmedication.

Proving that overprescription or overmedication represents medical negligence can be extremely difficult, especially when writing a prescription is often considered the ‘first-line treatment’ for just about any medical complaint. Our expert lawyers will review your medical records, prescriptions, and other documentation to determine if a healthcare practitioner was negligent in prescribing you one or more medications.

Establishing the ‘duty of care’ is the first element of a medical negligence claim. The ‘duty of care’ refers to a practitioner’s obligation to abide by certain standards to avoid causing harm to a patient.

Our lawyers can seek out all necessary evidence to argue that your doctor failed to uphold the standard of care and overmedicated you as a result. Common examples of medication errors that can lead to overprescription include:

  • Inadequate review of current medications
  • Prescribing medications that interact negatively with each other, leading to adverse effects
  • Failure to inform patients of potential side effects
  • Neglecting or ignoring contraindications (i.e., medical conditions, allergies, current treatment regimen, and other circumstances where a medication should not be used)
  • Prescribing medications to manage symptoms without addressing the underlying condition
  • Monitoring errors (i.e., neglecting to monitor patients for signs of adverse reactions to medications)

Read More: How Do I Prove Medical Negligence?

Fighting for Victims of Overprescription, Overmedication, & Medication Errors

The underreporting of prescription drug deaths is an egregious violation of the public’s trust. With so many people taking over-the-counter and prescription medications, the rate of adverse events, related injuries, and fatalities is cause for alarm.

If you or someone you love has been harmed by overprescription, we encourage you to contact Henry Carus + Associates as soon as possible. Our team is at the forefront of complex personal injury matters where overmedication is a factor, and we are committed to holding negligent healthcare providers, hospitals, and other parties in Melbourne and VIC accountable.