Painkiller Overdoses Linked to Pharmacy Shopping

Last updated on November 4th, 2019

  • The Act of Pharmacy Shopping
  • Research on Pharmacy Shopping
  • Stopping Pharmacy Shopping
  • Using this Information

In the world of prescription drugs, a primary concern is patient overdose. Many people become hooked on the drugs they have been legitimately prescribed by doctors, then they become desperate to obtain more and more pills.
Through pharmacy and doctor shopping, many of these patients are able to obtain massive quantities of a drug – significantly more than what they should have been safely prescribed.

The Act of Pharmacy Shopping

With pharmacy shopping, patients find ways to fill prescription orders at multiple pharmacies – often on the same day. Similarly, patients are able to obtain multiple prescriptions for the same medications by what’s referred to as “doctor shopping.”

With doctor shopping, patients see multiple doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions for things like painkillers and benzodiazepines. The behavior displayed through pharmacy and doctor shopping is reflective of an addict. And consequently, a heartbreaking outcome is addiction, which often leads to overdose.

Research on Pharmacy Shopping

In a study published by The Journal of Pain, patients who used painkillers obtained from multiple prescriptions at once had higher rates of overdose than individuals who did not pharmacy shop. When patients obtain more drugs they use more drugs, which is a very dangerous behavior.

The study focused on recipients of Medicaid between the ages of 18 and 64, reviewing the prescription records of 90,000 patients who used narcotic painkillers over a long period of time. What the researchers found was astonishing:

Their investigation revealed that almost 50 percent of the deaths caused by an overdose of narcotic painkillers involved Medicaid patients who “pharmacy shopped” their prescriptions.

Stopping Pharmacy Shopping

Unfortunately, it is harder than you might think to catch someone who is pharmacy shopping.

Although Medicaid programs in many states try to track how many pharmacies someone visits to fill their prescription, there are not clear guidelines as to what constitutes pharmacy shopping. Standard metrics, such as how many pharmacies one visits or how frequently the get their prescriptions filled, have not yet been set to help officially identify “pharmacy shopping.”

One point that makes the act difficult to spot, for example, is that not all patients who use multiple pharmacies are pharmacy shopping. It is perfectly valid and safe to visit more than one pharmacy in the case of travel or moving homes, for example.

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Using this Information

The results of this study also showed that patients filling more than one painkiller prescription at a time were more likely to overdose than those who did not. Specifically, those most likely to overdose are the patients who simultaneously filled prescriptions at four different pharmacies within three months.

The study concluded by suggesting the creation of programs that limit the reimbursement of prescriptions for drugs like narcotic painkillers, plus designating one pharmacy and one doctor per patient when receiving such prescriptions.

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