Though the term doctor shopping may sound innocuous to the uninitiated, it actually describes a very serious problem. The term is usually used to describe patients who fake ailments they do not have in order to obtain prescriptions for a psychoactive prescription medication, and/or who go from doctor to doctor so that they can obtain multiple prescriptions for the same psychoactive prescription medication. 

They do this either so that they can abuse it personally, or more sinisterly, so that they can sell it to others. Laws governing doctor shopping usually prohibit patients from hiding information from their doctor about previous prescriptions they have been given, misrepresenting their condition in order to obtain narcotics, or providing a doctor with fraudulent medical records in order to obtain narcotics. 

Doctor shoppers may present to practitioners as new to the area, claim to be visitors having left their medication at home, or repeatedly request “replacements” for “lost” or “stolen” medication. They may also deliberately hurt themselves before visiting a doctor or a hospital in the hopes of receiving a prescription for powerful opiate painkillers. 

Highly addictive opioids are the most common prescription drug that is “shopped” for in this way, though benzodiazepines, stimulants, muscle relaxants, weight-loss medications, and tranquilizers are also sometimes sought out for abuse. 

Because of this issue, almost all states now have anti-doctor-shopping laws governing prescription drug use, with many also requiring physicians to use an electronic database to check for any dangerous double dipping and keep electronic records . Violations can come with surprisingly harsh penalties, though addicted patients may be able to be sent to a diversion treatment program in lieu of sentencing.

In Florida, for instance, doctor shopping is a third degree felony that can be punished by up to five years in prison and a five thousand dollar fine, and an investigation may also lead to even harsher charges for drug trafficking if a patient is suspected to be selling their loot. To learn more about how specific statutes and requirement differ by state, you can take a look at these CDC guidelines.

These laws have been shown to decrease doctor shopping prevalence quickly and efficiently, though they also do pose some risk of inadvertently flagging patients who visit multiple practitioners because of a genuinely undertreated or undiagnosed condition, though it is in no way designed to impede patients from seeking a simple second opinion.

But in this case, given the devastating scope of the opioid crisis and the high risk these drugs pose of addiction, overdose, and serving as a gateway to even more dangerous illicit drugs, it may be better to be safe than sorry. 

This is especially true considering that, along with overdoses in patients who deliberately misuse prescription drugs, doctor shopping can also result in accidental overdoses in patients who are unaware of a potential drug interaction because they did not disclose their full medical history to their doctor. In one study, a little over 20 percent of patients who died of an unintentional overdose of prescription medication appeared to have been doctor shopping before their death. 

If you notice someone in your life who is exhibiting the signs of doctor shopping—for instance, if you observe them lying to their doctors, frequently disappearing for mysterious “appointments,” or possessing multiple prescriptions for a psychoactive drug—you should probably be alert to the fact that they may be suffering from a dangerous addiction, especially if they are exhibiting any other signs that they are abusing drugs.

You should also be aware of the possibility of such a person to to solicit or even steal prescription medication from their loved ones as well as to obtain them through doctor shopping, and take precautions with your belongings accordingly. If you believe that such a person is a danger to themselves or others, making the authorities aware of their criminal activity if they fail to provide any other reasonable explanation and are unresponsive to other attempted interventions may also be appropriate.

To learn more about addiction to prescription and other drugs and how you can help a loved one who is suffering, please call our hotline anytime at (833) 489-5577.

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