Study Says Primary Care Physicians Not Taking Adequate Addiction Prevention Measures

Any physician would likely react if a patient said they were addicted to recreational marijuana, and needed help getting more. Yet when it comes to opioid painkiller prescriptions, recent studies and news reports suggest many physicians are giving thousands of patients orders for opioid painkillers daily – even to patients at high risk for addiction, and those whose pharmacy records show an addiction has already formed.

Opioid prescription painkillers are the nation’s second most-often abused drug, next to marijuana. Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Yeshiva University, recently explored physician overuse or inappropriate use of prescriptions for painkillers within primary care offices. They found that in many cases, cautionary steps for patients who may have higher chances of opioid abuse were not taken and adequate prescription monitoring systems were not in place.

During the study, the records of 1,600 non-cancer patients who had consistent prescriptions for opioid-based painkillers were evaluated over a two-year timeframe. Researchers examined whether or not the patients’s urine was tested, if they saw a physician on a consistent basis in an office appointment, and if they were able to acquire numerous prescriptions for opioid painkillers or got them before a current prescription ran out.

Less than one-fourth of patients deemed at higher likelihoods for opioid addiction were given a urine test, and only 50 percent had consistent office appointments with a doctor. Equally alarming results were shown regarding premature prescription refills. Patients at elevated risk of developing an opioid addiction acquired early prescription refills more times than did patients who did not fall into the higher-risk category for addiction.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2009, more than 2.2 million people in the U.S. used pain medications for non-medical reasons. Research authors in the study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, say measures to prevent opioid addictions and abuse can be taken by physicians. These include encouraging doctors to establish a standard system or protocol for all patients receiving opioid prescriptions and keeping in close contact with patients on an in-office visit schedule.