​​“Doc Shopping” to Obtain Prescription Drugs is Illegal

December 4th, 2017 by Attorney Dan Carman

Abuse of prescription medication has become a serious problem in Kentucky and across the country. In order to get these drugs for personal use, or to sell them, some people seek treatment with several physicians, fabricate symptoms and sometimes engage in identity theft in hopes of getting a prescription for pills. This “Doc shopping” is illegal; if arrested, a person doing this could face criminal charges.

Kentucky’s Office of Attorney General’s Drug Investigations Branch works to combat illegal drug abuse, and one of the things they focus on is “Doc shopping.” The state’s physicians, pharmacies and dentists, by law, have also joined the effort, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. Prior to prescribing an opioid painkiller, they need to use a database to do these preliminary actions:

  • Check a patient’s opioid medication history, their possible use of combinations of potentially harmful drugs and determine whether the patient appears to be at risk of addiction or overdosing.
  • Find out if a patient is “Doc shopping” by receiving painkillers or other controlled substances from other sources. Those who do so are likely to be addicted, have a high risk of an overdose, and may be selling drugs illicitly.

Five years ago, Kentucky was the first state in the nation to mandate that healthcare providers search a patient’s drug history on an electronic prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) before she or she could prescribe opioid painkillers, sedatives or other potentially harmful and addictive drugs. Several other states have passed similar laws.

Where this type of monitoring is required, opioid prescriptions have dropped, as have prescription drug-related hospitalizations and overdose deaths. More people are being referred for addiction treatment by their physicians, as they discover patients’ drug abuse after they see signs of “Doc shopping” because of the PDMP.

Since the Kentucky law was enacted, prescription overdose hospitalizations went down 26% and prescription opioid-related fatalities decreased by a quarter, the first drop in almost ten years, according to a report by Shatterproof, a national advocacy organization addressing drug addiction.

Prescription drug monitoring systems go back to the 1930’s when they were on paper; every state but Missouri has some type of system. When the law was first enacted in Kentucky, the PDMP was criticized by some doctors and patients; but it enabled health care professionals to discover undisclosed drug abuse by their patients.

Kentucky is attempting to limit dangerously high doses of prescription painkillers by showing a warning on the system if a patient is using medications from several sources that add up to the equivalent of 100 milligrams or more of morphine per day. If a possible problem is found, healthcare professionals can search the database to find out if others in Kentucky are addressing the pain needs of similar patients; then they can talk about a person’s prescription history with another prescriber, which was not allowed under prior Kentucky privacy laws.

If you are being investigated for or have been charged with a prescription drug charge, a phone call to Dan Carman could be the next step you need to take. We take seriously what could be serious business for you and your family. Contact us by phone at (859) 685-1055 or through our online form here.