According to a new study, a frightening one in fifty prescriptions for painkillers is written for ‘doctor shoppers‘ who seek out the drugs for consumption or resale on the street. The doctor shoppers account for less than one percent of all prescriptions distributed in the United States for opioid drugs such as Oxycontin or Vicodin, but the total count still reached 4.3 million in one year, which is the equivalent of four percent of the entire supply distributed in the same year. Part of the reason this is becoming such an issue is the fact that the healthcare system lacks a transparent prescription tracking system or universal health record, so doctors have little credible information to rely on and must depend on information provided by the patient when discussing prescriptions. Because of this hole in the system and lack of control by physicians, patients can simply lie to their doctor about prescriptions they have been given in the past in order to obtain a higher volume of painkillers.
The study, published this month in the PLoS One journal, analyzed a nationwide sample of more than 146 million opioid prescriptions distributed during 2008 including Vicodin, Oxycontin, morphine, Percocet and Dilaudid. The research found the one in every 143 patients filled a suspiciously high number of prescriptions from various physicians, averaging 32 prescriptions from up to ten different doctors. Although prescription monitoring programs do exist, they are enforced at the state level and are fairly ineffective for the persistent doctor shoppers who seek opioids for consumption or street sale. In addition, the programs tend to require a very manual process on the part of the physicians, who must pick up the phone to find out about any patient’s prescription activity. The study concluded that physicians must do a better job of screening patients for misuse or abuse of the prescription drug system, but they do not have the tools available to do this effectively and sustainably.