The Medical Community Teams Up With State Government to Curb “Doctor Shopping”

When assessing the issues surrounding drug usage and addiction, you have to look at everything. While it’s always a good idea to understand the big picture, developing a solution to this problem can only happen once every nuance is addressed. What are the underlying causes of addiction, and how can we minimize them? How are people acquiring drugs, and what can we do to stop it? These and many other questions must be asked to truly grasp what is happening. This may sound like a huge undertaking, and it is. But with more people than ever concerned about addiction’s effects on society, and with technological advancements making it easier than ever to crack down on drug usage, there is strength in numbers, and plenty of reason to hope.

One of the things this increased strength has brought to light is the act of “doctor shopping.” Doctor shopping is the act of going from doctor to doctor in an effort to collect a stash of pills, either to sell or abuse themselves. People who are using drugs aren’t just getting them from their local black market dealer anymore. No, instead they are exploiting medical loopholes that makes obtaining drugs easy, therefore making it simpler than ever to become addicted. With these findings, it becomes clearer as to how the opioid epidemic got so bad.

Fortunately, the government and medical community are stepping up together to close this gap. Across the country, states have created medical databases that provide any emergency room or physician’s office with more information regarding a patient’s prescription history. This will effectively allow doctors to recognize when someone is doctor shopping, and turn the conversation towards getting help for the patient in question.

This database system will also allow doctors to recognize when someone may be in trouble with drug usage, but does not realize it. Opioid painkillers are not designed to be used in the long-term, yet some people do. Those who have had surgery can become addicted to painkillers if they do not use them according to the doctor’s orders. Others with chronic pain may find themselves going back to get prescriptions refilled simply to find relief, not knowing they are engaging in what is essentially addictive behavior. A doctor who can easily access the prescription history of such a patient can stop the vicious cycle, thus saving lives.

The next step towards curbing the trend of doctor shopping is to make accessing these databases before writing a prescription mandatory for physicians. Massachusetts has passed a bill, effective mid-October, that requires anyone planning on writing a prescription to consult the state database before doing so. California has legislation currently in the hands of their Governor, Jerry Brown, which would enact a similar mandate. This one stipulates that no prescriber can access the database more than 24 hours before writing the prescription.

While this is certainly encouraging to hear, the rules could serve better by being stricter and more complete. 24 hours is still enough time for someone to “shop” multiple doctors. Decreasing the window of time might mean that medical professionals will have to update the database more frequently, it is well worth the extra effort. Moreover, people who doctor shop do not restrict their efforts to only one state. Massachusetts, for its part, is planning on sharing their database with neighboring states like New York and Rhode Island. This is indeed better than being isolated, but it is also simply not enough. A national database should be instituted and shared across every state to truly make the best effort at preventing addiction to prescription drugs.

Great strides have been made, but clearly, there is still a long way to go.