Tammy Smick and her husband Tim were thrust into the fight for patient safety after the tragic and needless death of their 20-year-old son, Alex, due to a doctor’s negligence and reckless opioid overprescribing.,She has traveled the state of California fighting for patient safety and physician accountability.
The Smicks’ journey began when their son, Alex, became dependent on prescription pain medications following a serious back injury. He was prescribed Vicodin, Oxycontin, and eventually morphine, an increasing regimen of powerful drugs with no treatment plan to make him well.
Alex was just 20 years old when he sought help from the medical profession, and checked into the hospital to detox safely from those drugs. Within two hours of arriving, Alex was back on a new regimen of medications. By the next morning, he was dead.
Tammy and her husband spent months unearthing the multiple layers of negligence that needlessly led to Alex’s death. Answers were slow to come. Ultimately they learned that Alex had died of a poisonous mix of prescription drugs administered in the very hospital he entered to get off such medications.
The Smicks’ first act of protest was a massive gathering of family and friends outside the hospital where Alex died, to warn other patients and put the doctor, and hospital, on notice that they were not going away quietly.
When they sought accountability in the courts they learned about a California law, MICRA, that has frozen the value of a human life taken by medical error at the same level for over 40 years. That cap on damages in malpractice cases makes it difficult, if not impossible, to hold negligent doctors in cases like theirs accountable.
Tammy and Tim reached out to friends, lawmakers, the media, and organizations like Consumer Watchdog, hoping to bring about the reform necessary to prevent other families from going through the tragedy they did. They have campaigned with Consumer Watchdog to restore patients’ rights by indexing the cap on malpractice damages for four decades of inflation. Tammy was a citizen leader of the successful effort in 2016 to require doctors to check the state’s prescription database to ensure the safe prescribing of opioids. Her advocacy has helped expose the culture of secrecy around physician misconduct and the failures of the Medical Board of California to investigate and discipline doctors who harm their patients.
Tammy is a special education teacher for the Downey Unified School District. The Smickswere inducted into the Consumer Advocate Hall of Fame at Consumer Watchdog’s 2015 Rage for Justice Awards.