New research suggests that an increasing number of patients are receiving prescriptions for powerful pain medications from more than one doctor, which is a trend that may be contributing to an increasing number of hospitalizations due to complications.
According to a study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) on February 19, more than 75% of Medicare patients received prescriptions for opioid painkillers like morphine, OxyContin and Vicodin, from more than one doctor.
Researchers examined the database of prescription drugs and medical claims for more than 1.8 million Medicare beneficiaries in 2010. Of those, 1.2 million patients were given a prescription for an opioid painkiller. Researchers found a majority of patients received multiple prescriptions for painkillers from different doctors.
Nearly 35% received prescriptions from two doctors, 14% from three providers and nearly 12% received prescriptions from four or more doctors. Of the patients with prescriptions from four or more providers, 77% of patients received concurrent painkiller prescriptions from multiple doctors.
In addition, researchers found hospital admissions related to painkiller use increased among patients with multiple prescriptions for opioids. The more doctors that offered a patient painkiller prescriptions correlated directly to higher rates of hospital admission related to opioids.
Multiple prescriptions of painkillers may lead to a higher incidence of complications, side effects and inadvertent drug overdose.
Researchers found multiple prescriptions for painkillers were the highest among patients who also were prescribed stimulants, non-narcotic analgesics and central nervous system, neuromuscular and antineoplastic drugs.
The trend in receiving multiple painkiller prescriptions has researchers and health officials worried that the ease of receiving more than one prescription may be contributing to the increasing number of patients who are also abusing the medication.
Painkiller Abuse Concerns
A recent online survey of Americans revealed six out of every 10 Americans taking prescription medications take drugs to relieve pain. The poll also found many Americans admit taking medication prescribed for someone else, adding another factor to compound the issue of drug abuse in America.
Despite concerns about the risks of narcotic use during pregnancy, doctors continue to prescribe the pain medications to more than 14 percent of pregnant women, according to a recent study.
Just under two percent of pregnant women were offered prescriptions for opioid painkillers more than once, a startling statistic adding to the mountain of research concerning painkiller use among Americans.
Widespread concern regarding opioid painkiller use has come to the forefront of media attention recently, as well as that of health officials. The FDA proposed new limits for hydrocodone painkillers late last year, following the recommendation of consumer watchdog groups, members of congress and FDA advisors.
The change addressed a reclassification of hydrocodone-based painkillers to Schedule II drugs. This added new limits to how doctors are allowed to prescribe the drugs to patients and requires stricter storage and handling requirements.
In spite of the reclassification, painkiller drug abuse remains rampant across the country, leaving many health officials searching for other ways to manage the problem.