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Here’s What You Need to Know About Doctor Shopping

No, doctor shopping isn’t the process of selecting a physician when your insurance coverage changes. Although that can certainly be frustrating and time-consuming, it’s not illegal. Doctor shopping, on the other hand, is a crime.

Doctor shopping is a concerning practice where a person visits multiple healthcare providers to obtain prescription medications, often for illicit or non-medical purposes. Doctor shopping can come with significant risks, including increasing a person’s risk of addiction and overdose. It can also result in delayed or inaccurate diagnoses and inappropriate treatment. Moreover, doctor shopping can strain healthcare resources and fuel the opioid epidemic, making it a serious public health concern.

What Is Doctor Shopping?

The term “doctor shopping” is defined as “obtaining controlled substances from multiple healthcare practitioners without the prescriber’s knowledge of other prescriptions.”1

In other words, it’s when patients manipulate the system to get extra drugs. Doctor shoppers visit multiple doctors and provide false information to obtain multiple prescriptions. They may lie about symptoms, deny receiving previous medications, omit information, purposely injure themselves, claim they lost previous prescriptions, or commit other forms of deception. The drugs they’re after are typically narcotics such as Oxycontin, Vicodin, or Xanax.

People typically jump into doctor shopping for one of two reasons (or both):

  • They’re addicted to a substance and want to get more for their personal use. They may have had a legitimate prescription at one time, but that one has long since run out. Once hooked on the drug, they start doctor shopping to obtain more pills.
  • They want to sell the drugs. Prescription medication is in high demand. Doctor shopping is a means for dealers to illegally obtain a large supply of drugs for their buyers. In 2020, more than 142 million opioid prescriptions were written in the U.S.2 In 2021, approximately 1.6 million people in the U.S. misused opioids in the past year.3

Laws Against Doctor Shopping

Some patients don’t fully realize they’re breaking the law then they doctor shop. They may admit to being less than honest, or that they’re “bending the rules” a bit, but in the end, doctor shopping is against federal law.

General doctor shopping laws vary by state but all are designed to prevent patients from acquiring drugs through deceptive means. These laws include a variety of activities, such as:1

  • Deceit.
  • Fraud.
  • Misrepresentation.
  • Concealment of facts.

Certain states, like Delaware, use language from the Uniform Controlled Substances Act, which criminalizes obtaining controlled substances through fraud or misrepresentation. Other states, like California, follow the Uniform Narcotic Drug Act, which criminalizes obtaining controlled substances through concealing material facts or deceit. Additional laws in 23 states specify that information patients provide to a practitioner during the act of doctor shopping is not protected under the standard doctor-patient privilege. Ultimately, it is illegal for anyone to obtain, or attempt to obtain, a narcotic drug by deceit, fraud, misrepresentation, or concealment of facts.

What Happens If You Get Caught?

Because doctor shopping is against federal law, the act is considered a felony. If you get caught doctor shopping, your punishment could result in a multi-thousand-dollar fine and several years in prison.

Since doctor shopping is often the result of opioid addiction, law enforcement officials or court systems can opt to offer a ‘diversion program’ alternative. These programs allow you to attend opioid addiction treatment or another type of addiction treatment at an inpatient rehab or similar program, rather than serving time in prison. This option is typically for first-time offenders only.

In most cases, punishment includes incarceration and significant fines. The severity of the sentence varies by state and usually depends on prior offenses, the scope of the crime, and other considerations. No matter where doctor shopping occurs, it is considered a serious offense that should never be taken lightly.

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