doctor shopping

What Is Doctor Shopping and Is It Illegal?

Picture this situation: someone visits a doctor for pain medication. They soon go to another doctor for more medication. The cycle of medicating through different doctors just keeps continuing.

This practice is known as ‘doctor shopping. Not only is it extremely dangerous and a serious abuse of drugs, but it is also highly illegal.

Read on to learn more about this crime and why it is considered a crime.

What Is Doctor Shopping? 

Simply put, the term can be defined as “obtaining controlled substances from multiple healthcare practitioners without the prescriber’s knowledge of other prescriptions.”

Unfortunately, patients can often manipulate the healthcare system by finding loopholes that enable them to self-medicate or self-prescribe.

Doctor shopping is also known as prescription fraud.

How Do People Do It? 

There are numerous ways people can tap into this practice, including:

  • Lying about receiving previous prescriptions
  • Omitting information
  • Purposely injuring themselves
  • Faking symptoms 
  • Bogus prescriptions from fraudulent medical practitioners
  • Buying drugs off health care workers
  • Altering or forging a prescription

What Are They Shopping Around For? 

While the range of drugs can vary widely, doctor shoppers are typically interested in narcotics.

Other commonly abused substances are barbiturates, stimulants, tranquilizers, and benzodiazepines.

The most common substances in doctor shopping cases are:

  • Adderall
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone
  • Ritalin
  • Valium
  • Xanax
  • Valium

Why Do People Become Doctor Shoppers? 

One of the main reasons people get into prescription fraud is that they become dependant on a given substance. Once that substance runs out, or they’re unable to access it, they look to other (criminal) means to satisfy their dependence.

It is also common for doctor shoppers to get into the habit of starting with what was originally just a legitimate prescription. However, although they began medicating out of need, substance abuse can lead to medicating out of want, which is where it becomes a criminal offense. 

Once the individual is hooked onto the drug, they use doctor shopping to gain pills and keep up their substance abuse.

The practice is also by which some obtain drugs that they then sell. It enables the dealer to obtain large amounts of substances that they can then sell for a profit.

How Common Is It? 

Doctor shopping is definitely more common than you might think. 

Out of the 41,000 people who died of drug overdoses in 2011, 22,810 deaths were due to prescription drug overdose. Healthcare professionals are calling this the age of the overdose epidemic.

The nationwide rates vary widely, from 6.5% in some states to over 53% in others.

How Can You Get Caught Doctor Shopping?

Doctor shoppers often don’t realize that the pharmacy team can access controlled substance fills and their history. They can tell if the order placed was filled by multiple doctors or pharmacies and can report you to physicians or the authorities for the crime.

There is also database doctors and pharmacists can log into if they want to check on patient records for someone they suspect is a little bit ‘too eager’ for a controlled substance. These platforms are called prescription drug monitoring programs and were designed to help identify prescription abusers.

What Are the Laws in Place?

Many doctor shoppers will admit that the habit is a little dishonest or below the counter, but most never realize the extent of their actions.

Doctor shopping is against federal law, plain and simple. If you practice prescription fraud, in the eyes of the law, you are a criminal.

The laws vary by state, but doctor shopping may be prosecuted as prescription fraud (HS11173). Legally defined, the law “makes it illegal to use fraud, deceit or concealment of a material fact to obtain a controlled substance.” 

What Are the Penalties? 

Substance abuse in this form is liable for prosecution as a misdemeanor or a felony. The final verdict will depend on the defendant’s criminal history and facts of the case or instance.

The minimum penalties for the offense include summary probation, up to a year in county jail, and a maximum fine of $1000.

If the case is deemed severe, it may be charged as a felony and punishable by formal probation, anywhere between 2-3 years in county jail and a maximum fine of $20,000.

First-time offenders battling drug addiction can sometimes forego a prison sentence by voluntary enrolment in a drug treatment program or facility.

Why Is It so Dangerous? 

This malpractice is illegal because it is extremely dangerous. While one prescription (especially if the doctor has prescribed it) can’t really be harmful, taking multiple prescriptions at a time can lead to serious health repercussions.

It can also deepen any drug abuse disorders, dependence on harmful substances and lead to fatal overdoses in some cases.

Signs Your Loved One Is Indulging in Doctor Shopping

If you suspect a loved one is indulging in prescription fraud, be sure to address your concerns right away.

Some common symptoms of doctor shopping include:

  • Claiming a prescription was lost or stolen
  • Paying for medication/doctors visits in cash, despite having insurance
  • Asking for increased dosages
  • Anxiety when asked about their prescription or apparent symptoms
  • Mood swings
  • Financial problems

Doctor shopping is a serious offense with harmful repercussions. It can ruin emotional and physical well-being and lead to abusing and overdosing on harmful substances. In addition, it can result in jail time, a criminal record, and lifelong drug addiction.

However, there are ways to treat this habit. Behavioral therapy and medication are the most effective treatment for those battling prescription abuse and overdose. 

Be sure to reach out as soon as you see the early signs of doctor shopping. Contact us today at Sober Partners to learn more about our drug detoxification program and get your loved ones the help they need today.

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