It’s hard to believe that a visit to a hospital doubles your risk of death compared to driving on a highway in the United States. This is just one of the shocking revelations reported by Hearst on hospital safety in America. Nearly 200,000 people die each year from medical errors and infections obtained while admitted in a hospital.
However if you are one of our brave men and women in uniform and you are the victim of medical negligence you may have no legal recourse due to the Feres Doctrine, the 60-year-old legal precedent which prohibits lawsuits when military service members are injured or killed by negligence at the hands of others working for federal government. Sometimes the care at military hospitals, like Portsmouth Naval in Portsmouth, Virginia (VA), is provided by civilian contract employees who may not get the governmental immunity for their mistakes.
It seems far-fetched, but it is all too familiar to personal injury attorneys such as myself as I have handled injury cases for decades in Hampton Roads, Va. In fact it was not so surprising as a VA medical malpractice attorney to read the story of a young Marine who got out of Afghanistan alive, but for whom a stateside hospital stay proved to be fatal in The Virginian-Pilot.
The 20-year-old Marine’s death from a prescription drug overdose at Portsmouth Naval Medical Center has left his family reeling and frustrated by what they see as an absence of accountability for those charged with his care.
He died of a toxic cocktail of powerful narcotics and sedatives as he was awaiting chemotherapy treatment for cancer. The case underscores the dangers inherent in the many potent painkillers on the market today, which have helped drive an alarming rise in overdoses.
Overdose deaths from prescription drugs now exceed those from illegal drugs. There were ample warnings available on the drug labels and in the medical literature about the risks of the multidrug therapy that was used in the marine’s case. But there is no record of any public disciplinary action against any of the doctors by the Virginia Board of Medicine.
A hospital official said the case has prompted several ongoing investigations that have resulted in corrective actions.
“We trusted them, and they killed him,” said the dead man’s older brother and a fellow Marine. “It just sickens me.”
One of the dangerous drugs that doctors prescribed the marine was fentanyl, a narcotic 100 times more potent than morphine, delivered directly to the bloodstream via a patch placed on the skin. For some reason the doctors also decided to also give him his scheduled doses of oxycodone and OxyContin that evening.
Family members say they expressed concern to his caregivers about the number and levels of drugs. Later, that evening he was found unresponsive, the autopsy report confirmed it: The cause of death was “multidrug toxicity.”
He had a level of fentanyl in his blood and urine “within reported toxic ranges,” according to the report. In addition, 10 other drugs were found in various levels. The powerful combination of drugs caused him to stop breathing, the report concluded.
“There’s no accountability,” said his sister. “For him, the most dangerous place was the hospital.” It is hard to believe that the doctor’s and staff intended to prescribe the toxic cocktail of fentanyl and other pain killers together.
You may believe a prescription medication/device is safe especially when a doctor administers it but, on numerous occasions, this is not the case, and in some instances drug and medicine manufacturers have continued to distribute medications despite knowledge of dangerous side effects, or in the case of fentanyl, even with awareness of a nationwide pattern of accidental overdose deaths.