CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) -- A bill that would allow patients addicted to prescription drugs to sue the doctors who prescribed the medication — and the drug's makers — was met with stiff opposition Wednesday in a Nevada legislative hearing.
Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, said doctors aware of the risks associated with addiction from prescription drugs should be responsible if those adverse effects are realized.
"They know the person can get addicted to the drug so they should pay for the process of them getting off it," said Segerblom, the sponsor of SB75.
People who packed hearing rooms in Carson City and Las Vegas were overwhelmingly opposed to the measure. Sen. Ruben Kihuen, D-Las Vegas, as acting chairman urged testifiers to keep their remarks short because of the large number of vocal opponents.
"This bill ties the hands of physicians and takes away the rights of patients to choose which risk to assume while seeking treatment for their diseases," said David Johnson, a Las Vegas physician. "Yes, some drugs may be addictive, but that may be the less important issue when fighting the disease or symptom."
Conditions such as cancer often require potentially addictive drugs that come with the risk of severe side effects, but often they are the only way to fight the life-threatening illness, Johnson said.
"Everything in medicine has a risk," he said. "Most often the good effects outweigh the bad, but we don't know which patient will have a bad side effect."
Under SB75, anyone licensed to prescribe drugs — including physicians and dentists — as well as the drug's manufacturer would be liable for civil action if a user gets addicted or experiences injury resulting from an addiction to the drug. If the patient prevails in the suit, the defendants would have to pay for their rehabilitation, along with possible punitive damages and attorney's fees.
Also, if state-run medical marijuana dispensaries are created, those dispensaries — but not the state — could be liable if a user becomes addicted to pot, Segerblom said. Lawmakers have been discussing the possibility of creating a dispensary for the about 3,000 Nevadans licensed to use marijuana for medical purposes.
Many at Wednesday's hearing echoed the sentiment that patients could lose their right to choose what risks to take if SB75 becomes law. One doctor said it makes no sense to apply the principle to medicine when using it elsewhere would seem absurd.
"Would you propose a law where slot machine manufacturers and casinos are liable for the financial loss and gambling addictions of their visitors?" Las Vegas physician Annette Teijerio asked the committee. "Or the bartenders and liquor manufacturers for DUI's and alcoholism addictions by their patrons?"
Teijerio's comments drew applause from the audience in Las Vegas.
Another doctor brought a patient with him to the table for his testimony. His patient, whom he did not name, suffers from severe disfigurement and has been on painkillers for 15 years.
"Without Methadone her life would be a living hell," said James Marx, a pain management specialist in Las Vegas. "I can't imagine anyone with expertise in chronic pain management was consulted in the drafting of this bill."
After the meeting, Segerblom told The Associated Press that he wasn't sure prescription drugs were as vital as critics claimed.
"I know we lived without them before so I'm skeptical these are the only ways to treat these diseases," Segerblom said of prescription drugs. "But if they are, we have to create a better way to control and regulate them."
He added that because of a culture that teaches children from an early age to do what the doctor says, no person can "voluntarily agree" to take prescription drugs that list addiction as a possible side effect.
The committee took no action on the measure Wednesday.