Spinal fusion surgery is a medical procedure in which two or more vertebrae are permanently connected or welded together to prevent movement between the vertebrae. This surgery is performed in an effort to relieve individuals of debilitating back pain. Spinal fusion surgery has been utilized to treat back pain arising from conditions such as: degenerative disc disease, unstable spine due to tumors or infection, scoliosis, deformities, and fractures. With spinal fusion surgery, a bone graft is used to create one long bone as the graft causes the two vertebrae to grow together. Spinal fusion surgery is typically considered when non–surgical treatments have been tried and have failed to effectively treat the individual’s condition. This type of surgery can be effective in reducing the back pain an individual experiences, but it does come with risks and consequences.
One of the risks associated with the surgery is analgesic poisoning, which is related to the pain medication taken by patients recovering from the surgical procedure. This may be an area from which medical malpractice cases potentially arise.
While spinal fusion can help reduce the intensity of back pain, the surgery does limit spinal flexibility and is not designed to fully eliminate an individual’s pain. Individuals recovering from spinal fusion surgery typically experience significant pain and discomfort after surgery and a time of rehabilitation will be necessary. Patients find that pain medication is necessary to help alleviate the pain and discomfort associated with the surgery. Unfortunately, estimates indicate that over 20 percent of the deaths among individuals that have undergone spinal fusion die from unanticipated effects of their pain medication. Analgesic–related death is reported to be most the common reason for death among spinal fusion surgery patients. These deaths are reported to stem from accidental overdose, suicide, and analgesic poisoning. A study found that younger spinal fusion patients were the most likely age group to experience an early demise due to analgesic poisoning. Because there is no clear consensus in the medical community as to proper candidates for spinal fusion surgery, the opportunity for medical malpractice is prevalent.
It has been stated that spinal fusion surgery involves greater risks than other surgical procedures that are less extensive. However, individuals may face fewer hazards to their health during spinal fusion surgery than they do after the surgery is completed successfully. Because healing and rehabilitative processes require time, individuals will be prescribed pain medication to help manage their pain during these processes. Studies seem to indicate that during the time required for healing and rehabilitation is when individuals are most likely to die from analgesic poisoning. These individuals are simply attempting to manage their pain and die in the process. Spinal fusion may not be appropriate for all individuals as other medical techniques may be available to alleviate their pain. Families of individuals that have died from analgesic poisoning after spinal fusion may have legal grounds to file a medical malpractice claim and may want to have an attorney review their case.