Stopping Doctor Shopping to Combat Prescription Drug Abuse

Stopping Doctor Shopping to Combat Prescription Drug Abuse

While most everyone is aware that there is an epidemic of prescription drug abuse, there is less agreement about how to stop it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that overdose deaths from prescription drugs topped 15,000 in 2008. That figure tripled the number of such deaths in 1999 and probably vastly underrates the numbers for 2011 (figures which are not yet available). We do know that over 12 million Americans were abusing these drugs in 2010 and more are probably doing so in 2012. Something must be done.

One way traffickers and abusers stay supplied with prescription medications is to doctor shop. Doctor shopping is the practice of showing up in multiple medical offices with phony complaints in order to collect multiple prescriptions for painkillers. If patients were seeing several doctors and filling prescriptions at several pharmacies, for many years there was no way to keep Peter informed about what Paul was doing – or vice versa.

Recent news reports tell how 43 states have decided to combat the problem of doctor shopping. These states have developed information databases where prescriptions for opiates and other controlled substances are recorded and made available to doctors and pharmacists even across state lines. The few states without databases are working towards getting them into place.

Now the problem is whether or not to require physicians to consult the database before writing a prescription for drugs like Vicodin and OxyContin. Despite the pushback from some physicians a number of states have decided to require doctors to do so within certain guidelines which leave the doctor professional discretion but also protect against invalid prescribing. Using the database has been proven to impact doctor prescribing practices.

While there may be valid arguments to be made about patient confidentiality, and the uncomfortable partnership of medicine and law enforcement, the sharing of records to inform doctor prescribing seems prudent and effective.

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