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Painkiller Injections Can Lead to Death and Paralysis


Our Chicago medical malpractice attorneys understand that medical errors can often be grouped into two categories. First, there are harms that are caused simply by an oversight or the incompetence of a medical professional. These are more common errors and involve doctors who fail to diagnose things that they should or nurses who incorrectly give a patient too much medication. Second, there are systematic errors that hospitals or medical professionals engage in on a routine basis without thinking fully about the consequences. This second form of error is harder to catch, because it is often assumed to be attributes of reasonable care. However, medical malpractice lawyers are often able to show how even routine practices may have unacceptable consequences which should have been taken into consideration by medical professionals.

An example of this second form of error was discussed this week in the Las Vegas Review Journal. A the center of the story was a man who was left nearly blind and paralyzed after receiving what was supposed to be a routine injection in his back. The sixty year old man’s problems began four year ago. The Vietnam Veteran was an active man and had just spent a weekend deer hunting when went to the hospital for a shot of steroids to his neck to relief his chronic pain. However, the shot did not go as planned. Instead, it induced a stroke, leaving the victim blind and paralyzed. He now sits most days in his wheelchair, forced to use a horn to call for help if he needs food or to use the bathroom. His family filed a medical malpractice lawsuit after the incident that was ultimately settled out of court.

Unfortunately, this man’s story is not a unique one. There has actually been a rise in steroid injections nationwide in order to alleviate neck and back pain. Along with the rise in these injections are a sharp rise in unexpected complications-including stroke, paralysis, and even death. In this way, the injections may represent a form of medical malpractice where involved professionals fail to fully inform patients of the risks or appreciate those risks themselves.

One positive note is that the more individuals who have come forward and shared their story of heartache after painkiller injection problems have prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to review the safety measures that have been put in place regarding the injections near the spinal cord. One member of a hospital advisory board-and the one who alerted the FDA to the problem-admitted that the practice used to be deemed completely safe. However, mounting evidence confirms that it is not completely safe. It is irresponsible for medical providers to continue under the old premise. Patients must be made aware of the risks and professionals must add them to their analysis when deciding what course of treatment is best.

Spreading information about the risks of these problems is particularly important now, considering the use of the practice increased by 159% over the last decades according to the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians. Those most familiar with the process believe that the rise in injections is being driven by two factors:

1) An aging population with more patients overall in need of back and neck pain relief
2) A generous reimbursement package which gives medical professionals an incentive to recommend this pain relief option
While the current information does not mean that no patient should receive the epidural procedure, it does add a note of caution which should be considered by all those who may have a spinal injection in the future.

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