Medical Malpractice: May 2009 Archives

May 8, 2009

Potential Medical Malpractice for Prescriping Drugs That Increase Suicidal Thoughts

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned that antiepileptic (or anti-seizure) drugs such as Topamax, Lamictal, and Lyrica can increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors.  Because these drugs are so widely used throughout the United States, the warnings pose an intriguing question as to who is responsible to warn and monitor the patients that take these potentially deadly medications and when a failure to either warn or monitor becomes medical malpractice.

Generally, when speaking of prescriptions drugs, the manufacturer's duty to warn of potential risks and side-effects is limited to adequately advising the prescribing doctor of any risk that may result from the patient's use of the drug.  This is because the prescribing doctor acts as a "learned intermediary" and considers both his understanding of the patient's condition and the potential risks of a drug when making a decision to either prescribe the drug or not.  However, the knowledge the doctor has available to him is not static and changes when new tests and studies become available as seen in the case of antiepileptic medications.  Failing to inform patients already prescribed a certain medication of newly discovered risks associated with that drug may result in medical malpractice.

Doctors have a duty to disclose the risks associated with medications or courses of treatment.  This duty can include explaining to the patient what is at stake when taking the medication, any alternatives, what goals the doctor is attempting to achieve, and the risk of the treatment and the risk of no treatment at all.  Florida law requires doctors to explain the serious risks and the possibility of serious harm taking the drug entails so that an intelligent choice can be made by the patient by balancing the possible risks and the possible benefits.  Therefore, when new risks are made known to the doctor by the manufacturer or other source, the argument can be made that it is medical malpractice not to inform the patient of the new risk so that they may make an informed and intelligent decision based on the new information.

Doctors also have a duty to monitor their patients during their course of treatment.  Obviously, a failure to monitor a patient prescribed a drug that increases suicidal thoughts and behaviors could be deemed malpractice.  It is important for the prescribing medical professional to closely monitor a patient taking antiepileptic medications to ensure the risks of suicidal behavior do not begin to outweigh the benefits of the drug.  Failure to properly monitor a patient could have devastating effects including death or serious injury.
  

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