Although researchers expected to see high numbers of doctors giving new prescriptions to patients after an overdose, they were surprised by how many do it and how many are doctors who are not new to the patients. Photo by David Smart/Shutterstock
BOSTON, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- More than 90 percent of people treated for overdose of an opioid-based drug were given another prescription, often by their own doctors, according to a recent study.
Opioid overdose rates have quadrupled since 1999, raising concerns about the danger and potential for addiction to the powerful painkillers.
Researchers said it can be difficult to know which patients benefit and which are being harmed, at the very least because there are few ways to know whether a patient has had an overdose. Previous studies have found patients' regular doctors -- not pill mills or shady pseudo-doctors -- are writing most of the prescriptions, and have difficulty balancing managing pain and working to prevent an abuse or dependence problem.
"Most are doing it in a very good faith effort to reduce pain, relieve suffering, and doing what's right for the patient," said Dr. Marc LaRochelle, a researcher at Boston Medical Center, told the Boston Globe. "We need to help clinicians be able to do their jobs better."
Researchers in the study, posted in Annals of Internal Medicine, reviewed records from a large insurance company for 2,848 patients between the ages of 18 and 64 who had a nonfatal overdose during long-term treatment with opioids sometimes between 2000 and 2012.
Over a median follow-up of 299 days, 91 percent of patients received a new prescription for opioids after an overdose, with 7 percent of patients having a second overdose. After two years, the overall incidence of repeated overdose was 17 percent, depending on the dosage patients were taking.
Although 10 to 15 percent of patients stopped taking the drugs for a short time, most got prescriptions again -- 70 percent of patients who have an overdose receive a new prescription from the same doctor.
"We need to do something at a policy level and a system level to make sure information is being communicated and better tools are developed to identify and intervene on patients who have risky use and are at high risk for having problems," LaRochelle told CBS News. "It is very difficult to know who is getting benefits from the drugs and who is getting harmed from the drugs."