'Doctor Shopping': The growing phenomenon that's contributing to prescription drug abuse

FOX 32 NEWS - It’s estimated that one person dies every 20-minutes from a drug overdose. That’s more than car accidents.  

And it’s also estimated that about 500-thousand people will reach out to multiple health care providers to get prescriptions to feed their addiction.
At the young age of 17, Samantha started an opioid prescription drug to treat pain after an accident. She never expected to get addicted and had no idea the drug would be so easy to get.

"You pay out of pocket 300 dollars for a visit and basically they write you a script of basically whatever you want,” Samantha said.

Samantha is part of a growing phenomenon that's contributing to a nationwide epidemic of prescription drug abuse. It’s called “Doctor Shopping.”

Dr. Julie Worley is a nurse practitioner at Rush University who has conducted research on doctor shopping. She says women tend to be particularly susceptible.

"They found it easy, thrilling, fun; they really got a charge out of doing it and were very good at it and they were able to manipulate the doctors,” Worley said.

Worley studies doctor shopping to develop interventions for both patients and prescribers. She also counsels women like Samantha at Haymarket Center, a substance abuse treatment facility.

Worley says the most common prescription drugs abused include hydrocodone, oxycodone, Adderall and Xanax. And that many of those addicted get hooked after being prescribed the drugs for pain or anxiety and become addicted for reasons that can include past trauma and trying to self-medicate.

She adds that these patients suffer from a chemical imbalance in the brain from using drugs. Worley wants people to know if it’s a chronic condition that has the same relapse rate as asthma, diabetes or high blood pressure.

"We wouldn’t look down on someone who has to be hospitalized for diabetes but If someone comes in to ER who has had an exacerbation of substance use disorder and has to be hospitalized then we are looking down at those people so we really have to look at this as any medical disorder and not stigmatize people,” Worley said.

Her message for health care providers is to be careful how much you prescribe, and to let patients know you are there to help.

For families and friends, show compassion to those who are addicted - it's not their choice.

It’s a message Samantha wanted to get across, too. That’s why she spoke with FOX 32. Two months into rehab, she's optimistic and says her doctor shopping days are over.

"A lot of my family members still won't talk to me, they don't understand, how do you not just stop and I wish I could have just stopped, it's just not that easy,” Samantha said.

Dr. Worley is also working on a mobile app that would help health care professionals identify and prevent doctor shopping and prescription drug abuse.

Worley’s research has helped to identify key themes and strategies that health professionals can use, to better care for people struggling with this problem.