People who “doctor shop” bought an estimated 4.3 million prescriptions for opioids such as Vicodin and OxyContin in 2008, a new study finds. Doctor shoppers, who visit multiple health care providers to obtain prescriptions, represented almost 1 percent of all buyers of addictive pain medications in the United States that year.
The study, conducted by the think tank Abt Associates, is the first national estimate of doctor shopping in the country, the researchers said.
“There’s a hole in our prescription control system in the United States,” study co-author Douglas McDonald told HealthDay. “Lacking a universal health record, doctors have to rely on what patients tell them about what they’ve been prescribed by other doctors.” This means “doctor shoppers can get multiple prescriptions for the same drug if they lie to their physician,” he said.
The researchers analyzed a national sample of more than 146 prescriptions for opioids dispensed in 2008. They found one out of every 143 patients who purchased the drugs received an unusually large number of prescriptions from multiple health care providers. These patients obtained an average of 32 prescriptions from 10 different doctors.
The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.
Although many states have prescription drug monitoring programs designed to detect doctor shopping, some people are able to get around the system, McDonald said. “There are patients who have doctored MRI results, they go from doctor to doctor and show this falsified MRI record that shows they have a bone spur in their neck and they are in intense pain.”
Steve Pasierb, President and CEO of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, said because the monitoring programs function at the state level, doctor shoppers can avoid detection by crossing state lines. “I could have gotten a prescription in Portland yesterday, and then come to Connecticut and get another prescription,” he said.