Emergency departments and doctors’ offices are traditionally where many people get their prescription painkillers. Because of this, policy makers and healthcare officials have taken a closer look at physicians when it comes to the prescription narcotic problem in the United States.
For instance, many hospitals have instituted policies where doctors do not give more than three days’ worth of opioid painkillers in the ER. More doctors and pharmacies have also been using prescription drug monitoring systems to make sure their patients are not getting pills from other doctors as well. However, there still seems to be a great disparity in prescribing practices among physicians.
This is evidenced by new research that shows some doctors are very selective in who they prescribe painkillers to, and for what reasons, while other doctors have been found to prescribe maximum doses to many of their patients. This wide spectrum highlights the very important issue of universally accepted prescribing practices.
The study, authored by Dr. Michael Barnett of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, looked at the medical histories of 377,000 Medicare patients. From this information, the researchers were able to determine that doctors who were considered frequent prescribers were 300 times more likely to write prescriptions for painkillers than doctors who were considered low prescribers in the same hospital.
“These results suggest that an increased likelihood of receiving an opioid for even one encounter could drive clinically significant future long-term opioid use and potentially increased adverse outcomes among the elderly,” explained researchers in the new study.
This information is especially important when one takes into account that painkiller overdoses have increased four times from 1993 to 2012. And while Medicare patients are among some of the largest portion of the population to suffer from chronic pain, it does seem that the risks may not outweigh the benefits. The researchers also noted that many doctors either did not go over the likelihood of addiction or went over the addiction potential very broadly.
Addressing the Addiction Problem
As part of the continued attack on the prescription painkiller problem, hospitals and other healthcare providers should create a set of company-wide policies that will ensure that doctors are using the same guidelines to treat patients and also warn them of the great potential for abuse. Even though some doctors may feel that this eliminates some of their autonomy, this very real public health problem of opioid addiction must be addressed on all levels with various forms of interventions.