'Doctor Shopping' Tied to Fatal Prescription Drug Overdoses

FRIDAY Sept. 14, 2012 -- People who visit multiple doctors and pharmacies to get medications are at greater risk of dying from a prescription drug overdose, according to a new study.

Drug-monitoring programs might help identify patients who engage in what's known as "doctor shopping" or "pharmacy shopping," the researchers said.

"These programs currently exist in most states, and efforts are under way to create one large program that would compile the controlled-substance prescription data from all participating states," Marie Abate, a professor at the West Virginia University School of Pharmacy and faculty affiliate in the university's Injury Control Center, said in a university news release.

One such program, the West Virginia Controlled Substance Monitoring Program (CSMP), collects information on every controlled-substance prescription filled in the state. The study authors examined the CSMP information along with data on drug-related deaths that occurred between July 2005 and December 2007 from the Forensic Drug Database.

The researchers identified nearly 700 people aged 18 and older who had died. Of these, about 25 percent were doctor shoppers, and nearly 17.5 percent were pharmacy shoppers.

About 20 percent of the doctor shoppers also were pharmacy shoppers, and nearly 56 percent of pharmacy shoppers were doctor shoppers. Young people and those who had more prescriptions filled were more likely to die of drug-related causes, the researchers noted.

Pharmacists should regularly consult the CSMP when patients attempt to fill a prescription for a controlled substance, such as opioids, Abate said.

"This allows pharmacists to determine if patients had recently filled similar prescriptions at different pharmacies or from different physicians," she explained. "While patients might appropriately see different physicians to treat a medical problem or condition, there should not be overlapping prescriptions for similar medications within the same time frame."

The researchers also advised greater communication and collaboration between doctors and pharmacists.

"Ways of tackling the problem at a broader level might be to hold periodic joint meetings of both local physician and local pharmacy organizations to specifically discuss possible strategies for reducing and detecting doctor and pharmacy shopping in their area," Abate added. "Doctors and pharmacists could also collaborate to present community seminars to help educate the public about the dangers of misusing or abusing opioids and other potentially addicting medications."

The study was published in a recent issue of the journal Medical Care.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about prescription drug abuse.

Posted: September 2012


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