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Doctor Shopping for Pills More Common Than You Think

The term “doctor shopping” refers to patients who seek out medical care from multiple physicians – in relatively short periods of time – in order to obtain narcotic medications. Doctor shoppers are usually seeking opiate painkillers (Vicodin, oxycontin), anti-anxiety drugs (Xanax), or ADHD medications (Adderall). And, thanks to newly published research in the August issue of the Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, we know that doctor shopping increases among patients who undergo surgical procedures to repair broken bones.

Broken Bones and Drug Seeking Behaviors

In the new study, researchers examined the medical and pharmacy records of 130 patients between the ages 18 to 64. Each participant had previously sought treatment for single orthopedic injuries such as broken legs, ankles and arms at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University Medical Center during 2011.

Breakthrough findings included:

  • Overall, 21 percent of the group tried to obtain prescriptions for narcotic painkillers from doctors other than an orthopedic surgeon

People depend on doctor's shopping for pills or treatment for injuries

  • People with a low level of education are 3.2 times more likely to doctor shop
  • Most drug seekers are white males
  • People who have used opiate pain medications in the past are 4.5 times more likely to engage in the practice
  • The doctor shoppers used opiate pain medications for about 3.5 months after surgery, while single-provider patients used them for an average of four weeks
  • Many of the study participants obtained more than seven narcotic prescriptions, compared to an average of two prescriptions obtained by single-provider patients


The Scoop on Doctor Shopping

Most doctor shoppers set out to obtain prescriptions for:

  • Opiate painkillers (oxycontin or Vicodin)
  • Anti-anxiety drugs (Xanax)
  • ADHD medications (Adderall)

Utilizing multiple doctors to obtain narcotic medications is not only against the law, it’s also extremely dangerous. In fact, a previous study found that doctor shopping significantly increases a patient’s risk of fatal overdose.

Related: New Rules for Hydrocodone: What You Need to Know

Know the Signs of a Doctor Shopper

Physicians look for certain behaviors that might indicate doctor shopping activities. These include:

  • Paying for a visit using cash, despite having medical insurance
  • The patient resides in a city or county outside the doctor’s office
  • Claims that the original prescription medication was lost or stolen
  • Requesting that doctors prescribe a certain brand or dosage of drug
  • Asking the doctor to increase the number of tablets prescribed monthly
  • The patient appears nervous or rushed, eager to get the prescription and exit the doctor’s office
  • A patient is unemployed, yet he can afford to purchase expensive prescription medications

Learn more about treatment options for painkiller addiction and abuse