May 10 (UPI) -- Doctor shopping for opioids by members of families may be helping to fuel drug abuse, new findings show.
About one in every 200 people prescribed opioids in 2016 has a family member who may have doctor shopped, according to a study published Friday in JAMA Network Open.
"Our study demonstrates yet another reason why clinicians should not overprescribe opioids," Kao-Ping Chua, a researcher at the University of Michigan and study author, said in a news release.
The researchers looked for opioid doctor shopping patterns by looking at insurance data of 554,000 people and their family members who are covered under the same health plans. They looked for patients who received prescriptions from at least four sources and had them filled at least four pharmacies.
About 0.6 percent of the 1.4 million opioid prescribed to people fell under the criteria of doctor and pharmacy shopping. Among children in those families, 0.2 percent of prescriptions were considered doctor and pharmacy shopped.
By comparison, 0.7 percent of opioid prescriptions went to children whose families met the criteria for doctor and pharmacy shopping.
"This apparent doctor and pharmacy shopping behavior in children is likely driven by an adult family member, since children can't obtain opioid prescriptions from multiple prescribers and fill them at multiple pharmacies on their own," Chua said.
The rate of doctor shopping among families rose to nearly 2 percent when the researchers lowered the criteria to patients who got prescriptions from at least three doctors and pharmacies. And these statistics don't include prescriptions that were paid for out-of-pocket, without insurance.
Experts recommend families to get rid of leftover opioids by taking them to drug drop-offs or putting them in disposal bags.
"With children, the person receiving counseling on opioid storage and disposal is usually an adult family member like a parent," Chua said. "The problem in that this adult family member could be the person with doctor and pharmacy shopping behavior."