9 Obvious Signs Of Doctor Shopping

"Doctor Shopping" is a type of fraud where people with addiction go to different doctors and emergency rooms trying to obtain prescription drugs.

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“Doctor shopping” is a form of prescription fraud that involves going to multiple doctors or emergency rooms in order to obtain more than one prescription for the person’s drug of choice.

People who engage in doctor shopping often have recognizable tells that help to alert medical staff and loved ones to the ultimate goal of their behavior.

Common signs of doctor shopping include feigned symptoms, frequent emergency room visits, and heightened emotions if a request is denied or if an alternative prescription is offered.

1. Going To Multiple Doctors For The Same Prescription

People who develop a physical dependence on prescription pills will often start doctor shopping by going to new doctors to request the same prescription.

However, going to a primary care provider or seeing a specialist to get prescription medications is often a slower process with a lower success rate, discouraging many people after the first few attempts.

2. Lying About Symptoms To Obtain Prescriptions

While some people may lie about symptoms, chronic pain is a common factor in prescription drug abuse, so doctor shopping does not always include lying when it comes to symptoms.

In some cases, a person may exaggerate their level of pain or may be very serious about their pain without addressing their dependence and receiving meaningful help from their healthcare provider.

3. Claiming Allergies To Secure A Particular Prescription

People who are living with a prescription drug addiction often have a drug of choice, so they may claim to be allergic to other drugs with similar properties.

In many cases, a new doctor may suggest a drug that is less potent or doesn’t fulfill the person’s addiction.

A patient who claims extensive allergies to everything besides a particular drug is often flagged by medical staff as a potential doctor shopper.

4. Changing Pharmacies Frequently

There are federal doctor shopping laws as well as state laws in place to track the distribution of controlled substances and counter the ongoing opioid epidemic.

To avoid these safeguards, a person with a prescription drug use disorder will frequently change their pharmacy or move between them to reduce the risk of raising any red flags.

5. Repeated Visits To The Emergency Room

Emergency rooms are a fast-paced healthcare environment with many different doctors on-hand.

As a result, it is slightly easier for doctor shopping to go unnoticed, especially if the person goes to different emergency rooms in their area.

Emergency rooms do have protocols in place to identify likely drug seekers and flag them in the system. However, these protocols are not always successful in stopping doctor shopping.

6. Paying Cash For Medications And Services

One way people with substance abuse disorders evade safety protocols at emergency rooms and pharmacies is to always pay cash for medications and services.

Paying cash removes one method of tracking their behaviors and makes it more difficult to identify a pattern of drug seeking.

7. Using Alternative Identification And Phone Numbers

Some people who engage in doctor shopping may also present alternative identification and phone numbers to reduce the risk of being flagged by prescription drug monitoring programs.

The controlled substances act and other federal regulations help to track several forms of identification and insurance to help prevent doctors from prescribing copies of a prescription to the same person.

8. Responding Emotionally To A Doctor Who Denies A Prescription

People with prescription drug addiction do experience serious withdrawal symptoms that affect their emotional and physical well-being.

If they are experiencing the initial phases of withdrawal, they may be desperate by the time they reach the doctor’s office or emergency room.

Someone in this situation may respond emotionally or aggressively if a medical treatment provider decides to not give them the drug they have requested.

9. Self-Harm And Repeated 911 Calls

In extreme cases, people who are addicted to prescription painkillers may engage in self-harm to secure access to prescription medications.

While this isn’t the most common form of doctor shopping, someone with a severe addiction may hurt themselves and call 911 as a way of forcing emergency medical personnel to administer painkillers.

People who are experiencing this level of addiction are a risk to themselves and should be placed in an inpatient addiction treatment program as soon as possible.

The Most Commonly Sought After Prescription Drugs

People who doctor shop seek out a wide variety of controlled substances.

The most commonly abused prescription drugs are:

Due to the popularity of these drugs, many treatment providers will suggest a less popular alternative to help gauge if someone is providing a misrepresentation of their symptoms or situation.

How To Tell If Someone Is Abusing Prescription Drugs?

Prescription drug abuse has many of the same symptoms as illicit drug use.

The most common signs of prescription drug abuse are:

  • preoccupation with obtaining or using drugs
  • combining drugs with alcohol
  • missing important events or responsibilities
  • struggling with employment or housing insecurity
  • intense mood swings and noticeable changes in behavior
  • strained relationships, especially with people who express concern

The most commonly abused prescription drugs are prescription opioids, opiates, and benzodiazepines. Someone who is abusing these drugs may sleep often and struggle to wake up.

People who abuse painkillers and other central nervous system depressants are also the most at risk for fatal overdose, especially if alcohol is also involved. If they are struggling to wake up or breathe, call 911.

Prescription stimulants are also abused, especially by younger people who may treat them as a performance enhancer. Someone who is abusing these drugs may appear excitable or anxious.

Learn About Prescription Drug Abuse Treatment At Bedrock

Prescription drug addiction is dangerous and frequently leads to illicit drug abuse, including heroin and methamphetamine abuse.

If you or a family member has a substance use disorder, contact Bedrock Recovery Center today to learn about treatment options at our inpatient drug rehab center.

  1. Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC) https://www.cdc.gov/phlp/docs/menu-shoppinglaws.pdf
  2. National Library Of Medicine: PubMed https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3552465/
  3. National Library Of Medicine: PubMed https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6442108/

Written by Bedrock Recovery Center Editorial Team

Published on: February 12, 2024

© 2024 Bedrock Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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