Focus Should Be On Health Care Safety

We understand that it is difficult for anyone to wrap their head around the issue of errors and health care. Americans have a justifiably high opinion of doctors, nurses and other care providers. The vast majority are dedicated professionals that do tremendous good for society and save many lives.

But to err is human, and it has become clear that the big business of health and nursing home care results in too many preventable injuries. According to a recent study by doctors at Johns Hopkins, death due to medical error ranks 3rd (250,00 per year) behind heart disease and cancer. That is an alarming statistic. So read our March newsletter not as an indictment of the fine people who work in health care today, but rather a defense of every American’s right to justice and accountability when preventable mistakes occur. Patients and families who are harmed by preventable medical errors should not be denied their right to seek legal redress for what has happened to them. 

Guy W. Crabtree is a partner with Crabtree, Carpenter & Connolly, PLLC, in Durham, NC.

You Should Know: Prescription Opioid Use Explodes

Massive Increase in Prescriptions Blamed for Abuse and Overdose

First, a quick background: Opioid painkillers are derived from the same poppy plant as heroin. They reduce the intensity of pain signals reaching the brain while raising dopamine levels in the body, producing a type of euphoria. When taken for an extended period of time, ever-stronger doses are required to achieve the same results. Medications that fall within this class include hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin), oxycodone (e.g., OxyContin, Percocet), morphine (e.g., Kadian, Avinza) codeine, and related drugs.

Until the mid-1990s, opioids were only prescribed for pain from severe injuries or to cancer patients. That all changed in 1996 with the introduction of OxyContin, an extended release opioid from Purdue Pharma. This drug was heavily promoted as less addictive and therefore appropriate for more common conditions. Last year, 227 million opioid prescriptions were doled out in the U.S., making it the most prescribed medication in the country and Americans the biggest prescription opiate users in the world.

Most people start their nightmare descent into opioid addiction after using a legal prescription. The pattern is then all too common: When they get hooked and can no longer get refills legitimately, buy opiates on the street, or steal them from friends and family, they turn to cheaper heroin. Deaths each year from drug overdoses, more than half related to opioids, now exceed those caused by motor vehicle accidents.

Big Pharma Pushes Back HARD on Proposed Restrictions

A growing number of advocates, including former addicts and family members, are supporting legislative measures that would help stem the tide of prescription opioids. However, a recent investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and the Associated Press revealed that an industry coalition has mounted a 50-state campaign to kill or weaken these proposals.

According to the report, opioid manufacturers and their allies spent more than $880 million since 2006 on lobbyists and political contributions. That’s 200 times more than the money spent during the same timeframe by those proposing the restrictions and eight times more than the formidable gun lobby. Powerful doctors’ groups have also opposed added restrictions, arguing that lawmakers should not tell them how to practice medicine.

Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical companies posted record profits last year on prescription painkillers, generating $9.6 billion in sales.

Prevention, Education, and Solutions

The place to start in discussing prevention is to seriously question whether or not to take opiate painkillers in the first place. If your doctor prescribes one of these drugs for you or a family member, ask about and seriously consider less addictive medications, appropriate therapies and other ways to manage pain. If you do decide to go with opiates, consider these tips:

  • Make sure you’re getting the right medication. Provide your doctor with as much information as possible about your condition and overall health. Tell your doctor about all your prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, herbs and supplements, as well as alcohol and drug use.
  • Stay in touch with your doctor to make sure that the medication you’re taking is working and that the dose is appropriate.
  • Follow directions carefully. Use your medication the way it was prescribed.
  • Never use someone else’s prescription. Everyone is different. Even if you have a similar medical condition, it may not be the right medication or dose for you. Let your loved ones know that it is not okay to share medications with others or take drugs prescribed for others.
  • Secure your prescription drugs. Keep track of quantities and store prescriptions in a locked medicine cabinet.
  • Properly dispose of medications. Don’t keep unused or expired drugs. Check the label or patient information guide for disposal instructions, or ask your pharmacist for advice.

Big picture, you might also want to support proposals in your city or state that would regulate opiate painkillers. Legislation has been introduced in many states that would make patient registries mandatory, thus preventing abusers from doctor shopping. Measures have also been proposed that would limit the amount of painkillers that can be prescribed at any given time. Click here for more information about your state.

 This article appeared in our October 2016 "You Should Know" e-newsletter. 

You Should Know: People Who Make a Difference

People Who Make a Difference

The 2015 Justice Served Awards honor each of these nominees for their commitment to a safer, more just America. Tell us which story moves you the most (see our nominating criteria below), and we’ll enter you into a drawing for a free subscription to Consumer Reports.


Doctor Calls for Drug Testing of Health Care Workers

Dr. Stephen Loyd helps other doctors overcome addiction.

Dr. Stephen Loyd helps other doctors overcome addiction.

Dr. Stephen Loyd knows a thing or two about drug addiction among physicians and other health care workers. The prominent Tennessee doctor of internal medicine started taking narcotic painkillers to relieve stress during his residency. By 2004, he was knocking back nearly 100 pain pills a day. “I worked impaired every day. Looking back, I shudder to think what could have happened,” he says. Turns out Loyd is not alone. A recent investigation by USA Today found that more than 100,000 health care workers abuse prescription drugs and alcohol, many while on the job.

Loyd broke out of his addiction and today is leading a national effort as an Advocate for Action with the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy to prevent prescription drug abuse among other doctors and health care workers, including implementation of mandatory drug testing. “We have failed at policing ourselves,” said Loyd in this interview.

Spinal Cord Injury Launches “Amy’s Army”

When she took up swimming at the age of 12, Amy Van Dyken’s asthma made it difficult for her to swim the length of the pool. Undaunted by those who said she would never swim competitively, she went to Atlanta in 1996 and became the first American woman to win four gold medals in one Olympics. Four years later, she added two more gold medals at the 2000 Olympics. After retiring from the pool, Van Dyken and her husband, Tom Rouen, a former punter in the NFL, built successful careers in sports and real estate.

Inspirational Olympic gold medalist Amy Van Dyken-Rouen after spinal cord injury.

Inspirational Olympic gold medalist Amy Van Dyken-Rouen after spinal cord injury.

Fast forward to June 2014 when Van Dyken-Rouen was thrown from the ATV she was riding near her vacation home in Show Low, Arizona. The crash dislocated her T11 vertebra in the middle of her back, paralyzing her from the waist down. But once again Van Dyken-Rouen would overcome the doubters in her life and mount an amazing recovery with the support of family, friends and fans who call themselves Amy’s Army. Just six months later, Van Dyken-Rouen launched the Amy Van Dyken Foundation and now uses her star power and Olympic determination to help raise money and awareness for people with spinal cord injuries who cannot afford badly needed medical equipment.

Researcher Uncovers Shocking Statistics on Medical Mistakes

Our next nominee quietly wielded the power of the pen to send shock waves rumbling through the medical establishment. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) published the report To Err is Human in 1999, estimating that up to 98,000 Americans die each year as a result of preventable harm in hospitals. As shocking as the IOM data were, Dr. John T. James, using recently published data and a more complete definition of preventable harm to include errors of omission and hospital-acquired infections, estimated in a recent study that 210,000 to 400,000 patients die from medical errors annually. That puts medical errors as the third leading cause of death in the United States after heart disease and cancer.

Sadly, the tragedy of medical mistakes would also visit Dr. James. In the late summer of 2002, James’ son John Alexander James, 19, “died as a result of uninformed, careless and unethical care by cardiologists at a hospital in central Texas,” according to his father. As the founder of Patient Safety America, James is dedicated to providing information to those who are concerned about the quality of health care in America.

Father Warns Others About Kids and Hot Cars

Reggie McKinnon always wondered how a “good parent” could forget their child in a hot car. But then the unthinkable happened. On the way to daycare, McKinnon’s 17-month-old daughter Payton Lynn slept so quietly that he forgot she was even in the back seat. There he found the lifeless body of his baby girl when he returned to his car after work, still in the car seat he strapped her into that morning.

Since that horrible day, McKinnon has dedicated himself to sharing his story with community groups, the news media or anyone else who will listen. He has also partnered with Safe Kids and several other organizations to promote a public service campaign called: Where’s Baby? Look Before You Lock. “My promise to Payton was to try and educate people,” McKinnon says. “I want people to understand that it can, does and continues to happen to good parents.”

Justice Served Awards Nominating Criteria

The Justice Served Awards celebrate the stories of injured people and their families who decide to make a difference in protecting the health, safety and legal rights of others. Once a year, we ask our readers to read these remarkable stories and tell us which one touches them most and why. Winners are chosen based on their efforts to:

  • Uncover negligence or other irresponsible behavior by organizations that put their interests ahead of the public interest;
  • Prompt government action by shedding new light on defective products, services or other practices;
  • Trigger manufacturing and quality assurance practices that lead to safer products and services; and
  • Increase public awareness that helps prevent additional injuries and protects an individual’s right to civil justice in a court of law.

 This article appeared in our August 2015 "You Should Know" e-newsletter.