A West Virginia Supreme Court ruling says juries can now decide if drug addicts can sue physicians and pharmacies for their addictions.
In a 3-2 decision issued Wednesday, the justices paved the way for people to claim damages for allegedly causing or contributing to their addictions of controlled substances– even if they broke the law by doctor shopping.
“In those cases, those individuals don’t really have the same culpability as someone else,” said Del. Don Perdue, D- Wayne.
The decision answers a certified question from a judge regarding eight lawsuits out of Mingo County.
The plaintiffs alleged three pharmacies and four physicians caused them to become addicted to controlled substances following car accidents or workplace injuries.
“It’s like being condemned to hell. You wake up every single day and you’re sick,” said Breanna Matchett, a recovering drug addict.
Matchett is not a plaintiff in the eight separate lawsuits. However, her story of addiction parallels those behind the lawsuits. She was in a very bad car accident and her doctor prescribed her powerful painkillers. Matchett instantly became addicted.
“I lied to everybody. I would steal. I pawned my grandma’s wedding rings. I was breaking into houses, doing anything and everything to stay high,” she said.
Although many like Del. Perdue are happy with the court’s decision to crack down on pill mills and those behind them, the medical community has called the ruling “chilling” and “troubling.”
The West Virginia Medical Association released the following statement:
“While the WVSMA has not yet had the opportunity to discuss this ruling and the impact this ruling may have on physicians and future treatment of pain, we are certainly troubled by the ruling and its unintended potential consequences.”
The statement continued to list preliminary concerns, including:
“It may cause some physicians to curb or stop treating pain altogether for fear of retribution should treatment lead to patient addiction and/or criminal behavior. It may create additional barriers for patients seeking treatment for legitimate chronic pain due to reduced access to physician. It would allow criminals to potentially profit for their wrongful conduct by taking doctors and pharmacists to court.”