For anyone experiencing prolonged pain, the local GP is often the first port of call. The purpose of the GP visit is usually to find out what is causing the pain and for the GP to prescribe something to make it go away.
Most GP’s will start by prescribing painkillers to alleviate the pain, before undertaking further investigations to identify its cause. Sometimes the pain can persist and the root cause of the pain is not always easily identifiable. This is when long term painkillers are often prescribed to enable the patient to function on a day to day basis. The danger is that these patients can be easily forgotten about; they attend routinely to pick up a repeat prescription but are not always questioned on whether the pain is still present and whether they still need the painkillers.
Opiate based painkillers can be extremely addictive and when patients attempt to slowly withdraw their medication, frightening side effects can arise. Patients require slow, supervised withdrawal of painkillers to avoid these side effects arising.
Over the years I have dealt with numerous legal claims involving prescription medications, including one case where a client acquired a gambling addiction as a result of Parkinson’s medication. More recently I settled a case for a woman who was prescribed the benzodiazepine, clonazepam, in the early 1990’s for pain in her hip. She had undergone hip surgery but her pain returned 4 years later. She was advised by a pain management consultant that she would probably need to take the drug for life as it allowed her to function on a daily basis. Her pain eventually disappeared and she tried to reduce the dose of the medication. However when she did so she suffered bouts of anxiety and chronic bowel problems. She received very little help from her GP and the NHS when withdrawing from the drug.
In 2003 she found a clinic in Salisbury where she was slowly weaned off the drug, alongside alcoholics and recreational drug users. She suffered from withdrawal side effects, including chronic IBS, anxiety, pain, pins and needles and insomnia. By 2005, her anxiety had not improved and she was placed under the care of a psychiatrist. She asked to be prescribed clonazepam again as her life seemed easier when she was taking the drug. As she was no longer experiencing any pain, there was no clinical basis to prescribe the drug and her psychiatrist understandably refused to do so. He saw her on several occasions and continued to refuse the drug. However, she subsequently saw a locum who willingly prescribed the drug noting “…sometimes as doctors we have to accept that it is pointless proposing new medications against the patients wish because in the end it is up to the patient to accept or ignore the advice of a doctor.”
Our client soon realised that she should not be taking the drug and again tried to wean herself off it. Her attempts were unsuccessful. The medication was not having the effect that it had previously and it led to her craving higher doses. She lied about taking her medication and losing tablets so her GP would prescribe her more. When he refused, she took over the counter medication and began drinking heavily to try and avoid her cravings. She hit rock bottom, lost her job and was essentially cared for by her husband 24/7.
Due to receiving very little help from her GP or the NHS she admitted herself to the Priory in 2010, at considerable cost to her family, where she underwent a withdrawal programme. The withdrawal process was successful, though her withdrawal symptoms still persist to date.
She consulted us about bringing a medical negligence claim and we agreed to take the case on under a no win – no fee agreement.
Legal liability for her dependence was admitted by the NHS Trust and the client received compensation just before Christmas 2015 of £200,000.
This case not only highlights the serious effects of addiction to prescription medication but also the divergence between Doctors in prescribing certain medication.
For further details about making a claim for compensation for prescription medication addiction contact Oliver Thorne who is a lawyer specialising in Clinical Negligence at Slee Blackwell Solicitors. He can be contacted at [email protected] or on 01823 354545