A research letter published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine confirms that prescription drug abuse is rampant in the United States, but says that fixing it will require a systematic change focused on how most health professionals prescribe drugs, rather than changing the practices of a few bad actors. Researchers from Stanford University and the Palo Alto V.A. examined Medicare claims from 2013 to see which doctors prescribed opioids and how many prescriptions were filled. They found that the drugs are prescribed by a broad cross-section of medical professionals, rather than concentrated among a small group of practitioners. They interpreted this finding to mean that the overprescription of opioids is a problem to which the majority of health professionals are contributing, not the work of a small minority.
According to Kaiser Health News, previous research has suggested that as much as 80 percent of opioids are prescribed by a small subset of medical professionals. However, the authors of this research letter provide a more nuanced assessment of that claim. They found that 57 percent of opioid prescriptions are filled from ten percent of doctors, nurse practitioners, physician’s assistants and dentists. That figure demonstrates that patterns for opioid prescriptions are consistent with those for other medications, even ones that are not commonly abused. Nationwide, ten percent of doctors are responsible for 63 percent of filled medical prescriptions overall.