Pennsylvania Dental Journal March April 2017 - Page 28
Is On The Bottle
Judge Jodi Debbrecht Switalski, Senior Associate with The Stutman Group
For the first time in history, automobile accidents are the
second leading cause of death by accident in the United
States. In our nation’s biggest (and sometimes most
affluent) cities, overdose deaths often exceed homicides.
Today, middle aged, white Americans have a lower life
expectancy than their parents and grandparents.
And your name is on the bottle.
Meet Paige. Paige is not particularly unique. From an intact,
God loving family, she was an achiever and beautiful. There
was a light about her and everyone loved her. Like many late
teen, early 20 year olds, she got her wisdom teeth removed
and because she trusted her doctor, she accepted the need
for the hydrocodone prescription he gave her. 47,055
people died last year of a drug overdose. About 27,000 of
those were from opioids. A silent epidemic until recently
when enough white kids or star athletes began to die and
capture our attention. You see, that is what we hear from
the 20,000 or so students we will talk to this year: sports
injuries and wisdom teeth. It takes less than a minute to
buy the pills in schools across America. Your kid’s school is
no different. Paige made 27,001. She was 22 when she died.
Your name is on her bottle.
Meet Harold. Harold is in his golden years. Upper middle
class, his 57-year-old daughter reported that Harold takes
8-10 prescriptions each day, including several opioids.
Normally active and involved, his daughter became
concerned over his constipation, flu like symptoms without
his medications and difficulty breathing. Harold began
“nodding out” at family functions. The family hired me to
represent Harold, a man with no criminal history, not even a
speeding ticket, after he was arrested for selling his drugs.
You see, his retirement and Medicare were not enough to
pay his bills. Selling to his nephew at $40-50 per pill, he can
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make up the difference and after all, he can always get
more. 20% of all medical appointments in this country
result in a prescription for opioids.
Your name is on those bottles.
And what about Joey? Joey was born at 34 weeks
premature. He is in the NICU screaming, seizing, unable to
eat, sleep or be soothed (among other things) for up to 8
hours until he gets his next dose of methadone. 68% of
mothers who deliver a baby addicted to opioids have a
legal prescription. And it’s not from their OB/GYN. They get
them from their internal medicine or primary care doctor.
Or their dentist. Joey may never walk. He may never talk. In
fact, we are unsure of just how cognitively, emotionally and
physically impaired Joey may be. The civil litigation is still
pending but with some cases settling for millions, his family
believes there is a deep pocket liable for his long term care.
I am unsure what happened with the DEA.
What I do know is that your name is on the bottle.
I could go on… tell you about Brendan. Or Holly. Or John
or Susie or Jack or Bryan. But no one is really counting
correctly so the number – and the names – are endless.
Their mothers know their name. Their 149 fathers know the
grief. The one thing they have in common? Their drug
addiction began with a prescription from their trusted
medical professional. Over 75% do. Through 2014, dentists
or dental professionals, ranked THIRD for writing opioid
scripts in this country. Yet they were found to be “much less
likely than other professionals to be concerned about
prescription drug abuse.” 259 million prescriptions were
written last year. The paradigm has shifted, people are
dying; families, organizations, prosecutors and juries are
going to hold someone accountable.