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Doctors Fueling Painkiller Epidemic, Study Says

A recent study has placed the epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse in the U.S. squarely upon physicians who recklessly prescribe drugs to patients.


The new drug pushers.

By Paul Gaita


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A study conducted by doctors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and published in the March 2014 issue of the Journal of the American Medicine Association Internal Medicine has debunked the long-held theory that abusers obtain their drugs from sources outside of a doctor’s office, such as family or friends. Researchers initially culled their information from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, but found that several pieces of key information were in direct conflict.

First, the survey stated for the period of 2008 through 2011, prescription drug abuse had reached a level of stasis, but overdose deaths and admissions to emergency rooms and treatment centers had experienced a sharp rise. In addition, the survey’s statistics on how users obtained their drugs were pooled from a wide variety of interviewees, from casual to chronic users. This less specified demographic named family and friends as the most common source for prescription drugs.

But when the study’s researchers focused their analysis solely on the responses of individuals who identified as chronic abusers – i.e., those who took prescription medications on at least 200 occasions over the course of a calendar year, and who used drugs for the “feeling or experience” and not for medical reasons – the results showed that doctors were identified as the most common source of misused drugs in 27.3 percent of the cases. Friends and family ran a close second at 26.4 percent, while dealers ranked last at 15.2 percent.

The study concluded that greater focus was needed on doctors who were regarded as “problem prescribers” – those who prescribed drugs without taking full note of the risks involved in providing high doses of medication to patients, as well as a minority of doctors who used their professional status as a license to sell drugs. Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, said that law enforcement authorities could obtain greater information on problem prescribers by using prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs).

“There is a coalescing recognition of what’s going to be important,” Frieden said. “One is clearly going to be PDMPs - [which are] mandatory, real time and actively monitored so that the folks running them can identify problem patients and problem doctors.”

Death rates from prescription drug overdoses have more than tripled in the last two decades, and claim more than 100 people per day.

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