ASPPH logo


Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

BU Study Identifies Characteristics of Patients who ‘Doctor Shop’ for Drugs

Patients who are “doctor-shopping” for opioids and other controlled substances tend to be White, show up in emergency departments on weekends, complain of back pain, and request medications by name, a new study co-authored by a Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researcher shows.

The study, published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine, recommends that physicians use certain clinical characteristics to “identify high-risk patients and then target [them] for more in-depth counseling or screening” before writing a prescription. Dr. Kerrie P. Nelson, research associate professor of biostatistics, was a co-author on the study, along with researchers from Tufts Medical Center, Boston Medical Center, and Carolinas Medical Center.

The research team reviewed records of 544 patients who had presented to two hospital emergency departments with a chief complaint of back pain, dental pain, or headaches. They defined “doctor-shoppers” as patients who had prescriptions for Schedule II-V drugs filled from eight or more providers within one year.

About 12 percent of the patients had “doctor-shopping” behavior. Those patients were more likely to request medications by name and to report allergies to non-narcotic medications than other patients, after accounting for gender, age, and race. Nearly 69 percent of them were White, compared to 40.3 percent of patients not identified as doctor shopping. Back pain was the chief complaint among the three studied, and patients were more likely to visit the emergency room on the weekend than other patients, the study found.

To read more about the study, go to: