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Respiratory Depression

Patients who are prescribed opioid painkillers by their doctor to treat pain may suffer an overdose and lapse into respiratory depression—even when the drugs are taken at their normal dose. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 15,000 patients die each year as a result of an opioid painkiller overdose.

In addition to their pain relieving properties, opioid painkillers also slow the section of the brain that controls the body’s breathing rate. As a result, when patients are taking these drugs, the body’s automatic impulse to breathe may be slowed or stopped—a condition known as respiratory depression. If left untreated, patients with respiratory depression may stop breathing altogether and die.

Because the body naturally responds to pain by increasing the breathing rate, physical pain helps to prevent respiratory depression. As a result, patients who are in severe pain can cope with a much higher dose of opioids in their system than they would under normal circumstances.

However, if a patient’s pain goes away, the painkillers that are already in their system can quickly cause respiratory depression. Because of this, long acting painkiller drugs are especially dangerous because they may remain in a patient’s system after pain has subsided. Without any physical pain to prevent them from lapsing into respiratory depression, the patient may go into respiratory arrest and die.

If you or a loved one suffered respiratory distress or other side effects as a result of an opioid painkiller overdose, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit. For a free legal consultation from an attorney, contact the law firm of Heygood, Orr & Pearson by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by filling out the free case evaluation form at the top of this page.