Serious complications can and do occur during opioid detox and withdrawal. Even doctors, nurses, and other care providers often underestimate the dangers of these complications and fail to monitor them adequately because of it. In some cases, opioid withdrawal can cause death.
Most deaths related to opioid withdrawal complications may be preventable, as long as a care provider identifies the danger and ensures appropriate medical care right away.
Deadly Complications from Opioid Withdrawal Are Possible
Opioid users going through detox are especially vulnerable to complications in the first few days as their body tries to overcome its dependence on the drug.
Some people even die when trying to beat their addiction in a drug treatment rehabilitation facility. More than 3,300 people died while in inpatient drug treatment facilities in the U.S. in 2015 alone, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
There is little excuse for most deaths that occur because of withdrawal complications in these settings because the facilities should be providing adequate medical supervision or transfer the patient to a nearby hospital immediately when serious complications arise.
Acute Withdrawal Can Last for Two Weeks or More in Some Cases
Opioid detox is difficult because of the body’s physical dependence on the drug. Over time and continued use, the body builds up a drug tolerance, and the user must use more and more to get the same effect. This greatly affects how difficult it is for them to detox. Those who use more opioids or for more extended periods are at a higher risk of severe withdrawal symptoms.
According to the World Health Organization, there are two types of opioids, and each type remains in the body for a different length of time:
- Short-acting opioids such as heroin cause withdrawal symptoms beginning as soon as eight hours after last use and the physical symptoms may last four to 10 days.
- For long-acting opioids such as methadone, it may take up to 48 hours for the first physical symptoms of withdrawal to appear. These symptoms of opioid withdrawal can last 10 to 20 days.
While everyone is different and some people experience a wide variety of symptoms while others experience only one or two, some of the most common symptoms of opioid withdrawal include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Difficulty regulating body temperature
- Muscle cramps
- Watery eyes
- Runny nose
While many of these symptoms are difficult to manage, most are not deadly on their own. However, vomiting and diarrhea are two of the most common symptoms. When paired with the risk factors an opioid addict may already face, complications are prevalent. Regular monitoring can help to identify signs of dehydration, hypernatremia, and heart failure before they become deadly.
While these complications are serious and preventable, prompt action can also reverse them. Hospital detox units and inpatient drug treatment facilities must have a plan in place to catch dehydration and other significant complications and get the patient the emergency medical care required immediately.
Inpatient Detox Reduces the Risk, But Medical Negligence Is Possible
In many cases, opioid users benefit from an inpatient medical detoxification in a hospital or rehabilitation facility with on-staff doctors. This could last several days to a week. In general, this is the best way to reduce the risk of serious or deadly complications. These patients need careful monitoring in a hospital or treatment facility equipped to manage symptoms and with a plan for medical emergencies.
Unfortunately, though, even in these scenarios, patients do not always get the regular checks of the vital signs and around-the-clock medical support they need. If your loved one suffered a brain injury, other serious complications, or death despite being in the hospital or a treatment facility, you could have a viable medical malpractice claim.
Pintas & Mullins Will Review Your Loved One’s Opioid Withdrawal Wrongful Death Case for Free
At Pintas & Mullins, we understand how painful it is to lose a loved one. It is even more difficult when their death was preventable and occurred because of the negligence of a healthcare professional. If your loved one passed away during opioid withdrawal, medical negligence may be to blame.
We can investigate their death and work with medical expert witnesses to understand how adequate monitoring and prompt treatment of their complications could have brought a different outcome. If we believe medical negligence played a role in their death, we can pursue a payout on your family’s behalf. Damages may include:
- Lost wages
- Out-of-pocket costs
- Wrongful death damages
- Funeral and burial costs
- Other related expenses and losses we identify during our investigation
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