It’s difficult to turn on the evening news without hearing about ongoing developments in the “opioid crisis.” Though the media has been aggressively reporting on how the crisis has affected Americans, news reports often fail to address the role that doctors play – especially when it comes to overprescription of painkillers.
Can these doctors be held liable? What actions are being taken against the people who have flooded New York City with addictive painkillers for decades? The latest installment of the opioid saga may answer that.
What Opioid Crisis?
While the overall issue is complicated, in general, the “opioid crisis” refers to the fact that for the last few decades, prescription drug companies have encouraged doctors to prescribe addictive painkillers at very high rates. Some doctors prescribe these drugs purely for profit – without any concern for the needs of patients.
Along with the sale of opioids through illegal street vendors, this pharmaceutical malpractice has created spiking rates of opioid addiction across the United States, and thousands of deaths due to overdose. New York has not been immune to this epidemic, neither in terms of addicted patients nor doctors who have been happy to feed drugs to them. Just recently, a number of doctors were arrested in New York for excessive prescription practices that resulted in several deaths.
What Arrests in New York?
In October 2018, at least five doctors were charged by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), a federal agency, with flooding the streets of New York with opioids.
- Dr. Dante Cubangbang – According to the DEA, Dr. Cubangbang prescribed about 4.6 million oxycodone pills in the last six years. This makes him the biggest prescriber of oxycodone in New York State. During that time, he made more than $6 million in patient fees. Three of his associates were also charged, including a nurse who prescribed 1.6 million in oxycodone pills.
- Dr. Carl Anderson – While not as prolific as Dr. Cubangbang, Dr. Anderson is reported to have distributed nearly 1 million oxycodone pills since 2006 from both his office and his home in Staten Island. He reportedly saw patients in the middle of the night and sold pills for hundreds of dollars in cash.
- Dr. Anthony Pietropinto – A Manhattan psychiatrist who specializes in male sexuality, Dr. Pietropinto prescribed more than 12,000 painkillers between October 2013 and May 2018 to just one patient! Over the years, he has prescribed thousands of pills that resulted in at least one patient death due to overdose.
- Dr. Nadem Sayegh – Dr. Sayegh is an endocrinologist with offices in the Bronx and Westchester who has prescribed more than 50,000 oxycodone pills. According the DEA, in exchange for these prescriptions, he received more than $100,000 in cash, vacations, and other luxury gifts from his patients.
- Dr. Nkanga Nkanga – Over the years, Dr. Nkanga prescribed more than half a million oxycodone pills and thousands of other controlled substances such as alprazolam. Reports indicate he often spent less than 10 minutes with his patients before prescribing powerful drugs for them, frequently failing to perform a physical exam or even ask if they were in pain.
Are Doctors Liable for Opioid Abuse?
Doctors have increasingly been held accountable for opioid abuse through civil lawsuits – as have hospitals, if they contributed to these negligent practices. For a patient or family to file a medical malpractice lawsuit against a doctor, the doctor must have breached his standard of care to the patient – that is, by performing an action that another competent doctor in the same position would not have performed. While in the past, overprescription has been difficult to prove in medical malpractice cases, recent years have made it clear that these practices are definitely a form of negligence.
A solution to the opioid crisis will take years, perhaps decades, to accomplish. Addicted patients must be provided with rehabilitation treatment and proper pain management, and holding doctors responsible for their actions is an important part of the process.
The DEA and state agencies have begun arresting doctors and pharmacists who helped create the opioid epidemic in America. While these criminal charges are a great step, they do little to help the people who actually suffered due to the actions of these predators. That is why civil lawsuits are so important: they allow victims of malicious healthcare providers, who placed financial gain over the needs of their patients, to hold the healthcare providers accountable and gain compensation for their suffering.
To speak to a top NYC medical malpractice attorney at Wingate, Russotti, Shapiro & Halperin, LLP, about your own situation, please call (212) 986-7353 today.