Scientists have made leaps and bounds in the world of medicine, but there are still kinks in the medical field that will need to be worked out. One of those problems is the over-prescribing of painkillers.
While the drug abuse problem in the U.S. will not be single handily fixed with this change, working against over-prescribing will make a large difference. The way health professionals prescribe drugs is a large cause of prescription drug abuse, and tackling this problem from its source will work a lot better than simply pointing the finger at those who abuse the drugs.
Scientists became aware of the prevalence of over-prescribing through a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine. The study was led by Jonathan Chen, MD, a professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine. The study examined Medicare claims from 2013 to see which doctors prescribed opioids. The researchers also looked at how many prescriptions were filled. The term “opioids” refers to a class of drug that includes OxyContin, morphine, and codeine.
The study had some truly eye-opening results. These drugs are being prescribed by all different types of medical professionals, such as doctors, dentists, physician’s assistants, and nurse practitioners. The researchers were surprised to find that the majority of health professionals are contributing to the problem of overprescribing opioids, an issue which was originally thought to be caused by only a small minority of healthcare professionals.
Abuse of prescription painkillers has been a problem throughout the nation, causing concern among policymakers, law enforcement officials, and public health experts. According to the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 19,000 people died from overdosing on prescription painkillers in 2014. According to previous research, about 80% of opioids are prescribed by medical professionals. Dr. Chen’s research went further in depth to find that 57% of these opioid prescriptions were filled by 10% of doctors, nurse practitioners, dentists, and physician assistants. This figure implies that the pattern for the opioid prescription is in line with the patterns for other medications, including those that are not typically abused. This means that 10% of doctors and responsible for 63% of medical prescriptions. This shows that the opioid crisis is fueled by more than just a few doctors. The frequency that a doctor prescribes these painkillers is about the same as the frequency that a doctor recommends any other type of medication.
So, what are the real world implications of this research? Chen states that any public health initiatives that set out to end prescription drug abuse need to target all doctors, thus taking a systematic approach. This change can not be brought about unless medical professionals throughout a number of fields are informed about the prevalence of overdosing on opioids. The target needs to shift from a small percentage of doctors that were believed to be causing the crisis to the wide spectrum of medical professionals who are actually causing it. All healthcare professionals need to work to solve this issue in order to change the medical field, and the world, for the better.