Doctor shopping’ is the practice of visiting numerous doctors, dentists, pharmacies and/or emergency rooms to fraudulently obtain prescriptions for non-medicinal use. Increasingly making headlines, doctor shopping is considered to be the most common means by which people addicted to prescription drugs get their hands on their drugs. It is often assumed that someone doctor shops for the purpose of feeding their own personal addiction, however, there is a subset of doctor shopping activity for the intent of street sale. Depending on the drug, street value can range from $0.25 to $75.00, per pill.

Is it illegal?  Under the federal Narcotic Control Regulations (made under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, 1996), “a person who has received a prescription for a narcotic shall not seek or receive another prescription or narcotic from a different practitioner without disclosing to that practitioner particulars of every prescription or narcotic that he or she has obtained within the previous 30 days”. To wit, in 2006, a Toronto woman was charged with filling prescriptions for almost 14,000 pills at nine pharmacies across the province.

How is it monitored?  Nine of ten provinces have some form of system in place to track prescription-related information such as double doctoring. As an example, in 2008, Health Canada ordered pharmacies in Atlantic Canada to track narcotic prescriptions by family physicians after rates of narcotics abuse were found to be highest in that region. However, since there is no national surveillance system in place, the monitoring of doctor shopping and fraudulent prescription drug acquisition in Canada is a patchwork approach, at best.

How big is the problem?  In 2002, Canada reported the fourth highest per-capita use of prescription narcotics in the world. The Centre for Addiction & Mental Health, in a study published that same year, indicated that 11% of admissions to substance abuse treatment programs in Ontario were for prescription drug abuse. A 2007 study released by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA) cited evidence that “Canadians are among the heaviest consumers of psychotropic medication in the world”. And according to a 2008 study published in the journal Contemporary Drug Problems, North America has the world’s highest consumption of medical prescription opioids (consumption levels have, in fact, doubled in the past decade). Earlier this year, Narconon Alcohol and Drug Rehab Center reported that nearly half the calls they receive are with regards to prescription medications (primarily Oxycodone, Percocet and morphine).

How does prescription drug abuse relate to mental capacity?  The most coveted drugs targeted by doctor shoppers are the opioids (including morphine, codeine-containing Tylenol 2s, 3s and 4s, Percocet/Percodan, OxyContin and other pain-relieving agents) and the benzodiazepines (including Valium, Serax, Xanax, Ativan and Halcion and other agents used for sedation, relief of anxiety or as muscle relaxants). These drugs are known to have detrimental effects on perception, attention, alertness, memory, orientation, attention and decision-making.

Jennifer Hartman, guest blogger