For many reasons, millions of people are prescribed various pharmaceutical drugs each year. When the prescription is appropriate and reduces pain or anxiety, for example, the chemical compound given to the individual is being used at it is intended.
When the prescription drug is used beyond what it has been administered for though, the user’s consumption leads to abuse and can evolve into addiction.
It makes sense that when someone who has been experiencing chronic pain finds a substance that alleviates the pain, he or she wants to continue the use to avoid pain altogether. The same can be true for muscle relaxers, sleeping pills, and anti-anxiety medications.
With prescription drug abuse and possible addiction, the individual begins taking more and more of the substance.
If I have a thirty-day supply of a painkiller, prescribed to take one pill each day, and I start taking two, three, or four pills each day, the thirty-day prescription amount will no longer last the full thirty days.
At this point, what do I do? I don’t want to stop taking the medication, but I cannot call the pharmacy and refill the prescription for however many more days, if at all. My current physician will not write me a prescription for more pills mid way through the amount that should last me for the duration of the designated time period, thirty days in my current example.
What Exactly Is Doctor Shopping?
What many individuals who have started to take more prescription pills at a time, or in one day, than prescribed, have found effective is going to another doctor. In addition to the current physician, the drug user makes an appointment with another physician and presents the pain, or the inability to sleep, in hopes of another prescription for the same drug he or she has previously been prescribed.
This process has been coined doctor shopping.
It has been discovered in recent years that many, many drug addictions have been fostered by several doctors writing a prescription to one person without the knowledge that another doctor already holds that title for this particular individual.
If I am the doctor and I have a patient who is in pain, and I feel that a drug like Vicodin would help alleviate the pain and provide this patient with a higher level of functioning, how much investigating am I responsible for doing? Should I be in charge of finding out whether this patient is getting Vicodin from another doctor, or am I doing my job by prescribing what I feel will best help this individual?
Most people who doctor shop also pharmacy shop, which is to say they try to get one prescription filled at multiple pharmacies.
Efforts To Combat Doctor Shopping
Regulation of doctor and pharmacy shopping has become a real issue. The difficulty is in determining who is responsible for regulation, and how to keep track of prescriptions in one place so that every physician and pharmacy has up-to-date records.
Statewide databases have been implemented that allow healthcare professionals and pharmacies to see who has filled what prescriptions, but that’s assuming the person doing the drug-seeking and doctor shopping uses the same name and form of identification, and even health insurance.
There are ways around the systems, and it too can become a numbers game. If I visit several doctors and pharmacies and just one of each gives me the pills that I want, I am fine for that time period, and I can hit another few when I need another refill.
The deaths of many celebrities like Michael Jackson, Corey Haim, and Anna Nicole Smith have brought the issue of prescription drug and doctor shopping to light. Through a detected system setup to alert, or red flag, a pharmacy, the DEA has been able to detect and monitor incidents of doctor and pharmacy shopping.
Although many situations of addiction start with the innocent treatment of pain, anxiety, or insomnia, the progression from symptom maintenance to addiction can be quick and difficult to stop. The real advantage of the ability to locate doctor and pharmacy shoppers is to prevent further prescription drug abuse and addiction.
Jared Friedman is the quality improvement manager at Sovereign Health Group, learn more about his work by reading his blog entries at http://www.sovcal.com/sovblog/.