Early Discharge From Rehab Center & Liability

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Addiction in the United States has become a national issue. The majority of national attention in recent years has been on the opioid epidemic, and for good reason:  around 68% of the more than 70,200 recorded drug overdose deaths in 2017 involved an opioid. On average, 130 Americans die each day from an opioid overdose.

The rate of opioid use in the United States has risen significantly in recent years. The number of overdose deaths involving opioids was 6 times higher in 2017 than in 1999. The CDC traces the rise in opioid use and associated fatalities with “waves” first seen in the 1990s: the first wave was seen around 1999, and was attributed to the overall rise in prescribing opioids. The second wave began in 2010, with a rapid increase in overdose deaths involving heroin. The third wave began in 2013 and included significant increases in overdose deaths involving illegally-manufactured fentanyl.

Along with this increase in opioid abuse has been an increase in those seeking treatment. When a loved one enters rehab, we are often hopeful that the struggle of addiction may soon be ending. However, there are significant risks that accompany drug and alcohol rehabilitation. One of these risks is early discharge.

There are a variety of different treatment programs for addiction. Some long-term residential programs have patients who stay at a facility for a very long period of time (up to 6 to 12 months). Short-term residential programs typically involve patients staying at a facility for a period of weeks. Either type of program will include some type of outpatient component upon successful completion of the initial program.

Just as every program is different, the recovery process a patient can expect will vary widely. However, there are some similarities. Most programs will start with the initial administration- the process during which an individual formally becomes a patient of a facility. This can involve paperwork, examinations, and an introduction to the expectations for and of the patient throughout the program. Next will be a detox period. 

This period can last anywhere from a few days to two weeks. This is an especially critical period of the rehab process. During this time, the patient will exhibit a range of physical and psychological symptoms, depending on the substance(s) previously being abused. While going through this process, it is critical that patients are monitored closely and have appropriate access to trained medical professionals. Their physical symptoms must be monitored to ensure that any potential complications are caught and appropriate medical care is administered. Patients’ behavior should also be monitored during this time; there is a high risk of suicide and other self-harm behaviors during the period of withdrawal.

Once the withdrawal period has ended, the patient will begin a more structured treatment plan. This can include individual therapy, group therapy, and additional programming (wellness-oriented programs, drug education, other forms of therapy such as family sessions). Finally, the patient will plan to leave rehab. This will include making some plan to maintain sobriety once the patient leaves. This may include continuing some form of outpatient therapy, attending a less-formal type of group session (such as NA or AA), developing strategies to abstain from using, or a combination of these and other plans. Ultimately, the goal is for the patient to successfully complete the treatment program and leave the facility equipped and ready to maintain sobriety.

Not all patients successfully complete treatment. Patients may leave at any point during the process for a variety of reasons. A patient may leave of his or her own volition, or a program may ask a patient to leave because she was in violation of rules. Leaving treatment can be incredibly risky. Research has demonstrated that individuals are at a very high risk for overdose once they have lost a previous tolerance for the substance they formerly abused. Studies found a very high rate of overdose in opiate users who recently were released from prison as well as those who were in the early weeks of a methadone treatment program as these individuals would misjudge their opiate dose when they returned to using. 

In addition to the risks of overdose, the patient is at a risk for suicide and self-harm behavior, especially early in the process while he or she is experiencing withdrawal. 

Do rehab centers have any responsibility for preventing patients from leaving early and suffering overdose, committing suicide, or other negative outcomes? The answer will depend on the circumstances of the particular case.

Rehab centers owe a duty of care to their patients and must keep them safe from unnecessary risks. This includes providing proper medical care, monitoring patient behavior, keeping facilities safe, and much more. If a rehab center were to fail in this duty, it might be liable for any resulting harm.

Rehab Has Become Big Business

Accompanying the rise in opioid addiction and deaths has been a rise in for-profit addiction treatment centers, many of which are not accredited. These organizations focus on aggressive marking while providing sub-standard care, seeking to minimize overhead to maximize profits, with may patients paying the price.

Determining what actually happened when a patient is injured (or dies) in a manner which may be related to a rehab stay can be incredibly difficult. These organizations will want to protect their financial interests and may not be forthcoming with records and other necessary information.

If you think a rehab center may have failed to adhere to the duty of care to you or a loved one, contact our legal team today. We have the investigative resources to take these major organizations head-on. We offer a free consultation to discuss the specifics of your case in more detail and advise you on the right path to take.

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