Internal medicine, family practice doctors prescribing opioid painkillers more often than pain specialists, new study finds

by Eric Pearson

A staggering 40% of all narcotic painkiller prescriptions in the USA from 2011-2012 were written by only 5% of opioid prescribers, according to a study that Express Scripts recently presented at AcademyHealth’s annual research meeting. The Express Scripts study identifies prescribers who prescribe opioids at a much higher rate than their peers practicing in the same specialty and geographic region and treating patients of similar age.

The study found that internal medicine and family practice doctors are among the specialties with the highest prevalence of “high prescribers,” even after accounting for the volume of prescribers in these two specialties. A concern is that specialists in internal medicine and family practice may not have all the knowledge and experience they need about powerful opioids. These findings could indicate the need for better education about prescribing guidelines or tighter controls on narcotic prescribing.

It is beyond dispute that the rise in opioid abuse-related deaths coincided with a dramatic increase in prescriptions for such narcotics. There have been more than 125,000 painkiller overdose deaths in the past decade and part of the blame should be on drug companies for advertising the drugs as safe and effective for long-term use, claim groups like Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing. Groups like PROP say that addiction often begins when doctors prescribe the drugs for common aches and pains.

As we have reported, the City of Chicago and two California counties have brought lawsuits against manufacturers of narcotic painkillers in which they accuse these companies of engaging in deceptive marketing strategies that downplay addiction and overdose risks. Opioids were associated with 75% of prescription drug overdoses in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent data.

Drug deaths in America now outnumber traffic fatalities. Overdoses of prescription painkillers (opioid or narcotic pain relievers) have more than tripled in the past 20 years, killing more than 15,500 people in the United States in 2009 alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Prescription drugs linked to causing the most deaths include:

  • Opioids (painkiller) such hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin) and fentanyl (Duragesic) patches
  • Benzodiazepines (central nervous system depressants used to induce sleep and treat anxiety) such as Alprazolam (Xanax), Diazepam (Valium)
  • Amphetamines (central nervous system stimulants used to treat ADHD and similar disorders) such as Adderal, Ridalin, and Concentra

Help for Victims of Opioid Painkiller Overdoses

The marketing practices of drug companies who manufacture opioid painkillers have had a disastrous effect on the lives of patients who have suffered addictions or overdoses because of these drugs. Thousands of patients are killed each year because of an opioid overdose, making deaths from painkiller medications one of the leading causes of the unprecedented rise in prescription drugs deaths in the U.S. over recent years.

Doctors who prescribe these medications indiscriminately to their patients have also played a role in the epidemic of prescription painkiller overdoses in this country. When doctors or hospitals give opioid medications to their patients without exercising proper care, they are putting the health—and even the lives—of their patients in jeopardy. Patients who are prescribed narcotic painkillers that are stronger than what is needed to treat their symptoms, or who are prescribed more pills than necessary, face a greater risk of suffering an accidental overdose or becoming addicted to these medications.

Patients who are the victims of addiction or overdose from opioid painkillers may be eligible to file a lawsuit against the drug’s manufacturer, as well as the doctor or hospital who prescribed the medication. The first step in filing a lawsuit is to secure the help of an experienced attorney who can guide you through your case.

The lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson have represented numerous individuals who have been the victim of complications caused by opioid painkiller prescriptions. Our law firm has handled more cases involving the fentanyl pain patch—a powerful opioid painkiller that is about 80-100 times more powerful than morphine—than all other law firms in the country combined.

For more information about filing an opioid painkiller lawsuit and to learn if you may be eligible to file a case, contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by following the link to our free case evaluation form located on this website.

by Eric Pearson

Eric Pearson is a licensed attorney and a partner at HO&P who handles commercial and personal injury lawsuits. Eric has been selected to the Super Lawyers List, a Thomson Reuters publication.