Is Doctor Shopping Illegal?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on December 14, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Opioid addiction has reached epidemic levels in the United States, with the powerful prescription painkillers becoming more deadly than car accidents. In order to feed their addiction (or to obtain drugs for resale) many people will engage in "doctor shopping," going to multiple physicians and convincing them to prescribe more and more opioids. (Some have even been caught doctor shopping at veterinary clinics.)

So is doctor shopping actually illegal? And can doctors get in trouble if they've been duped?

Patient Criminality

All 50 states have some form of fraud statute when it comes to prescription drugs, nearly all of which contain language similar to that found in the Uniform Narcotic Drug Act: "[n]o person shall obtain or attempt to obtain a narcotic drug, or procure or attempt to procure the administration of a narcotic drug ... by fraud, deceit, misrepresentation, or subterfuge[ ] or ... by the concealment of a material fact." So lying to a doctor about your condition or failing to reveal that you have already been prescribed drugs by another doctor is illegal under both state and federal law.

In addition, 20 states have also passed specific doctor shopping laws that prohibit patients from knowingly withholding information from doctors regarding controlled substances or prescriptions they have received from other healthcare practitioners.

Doctor Criminality

Not only can patients be charged for doctor shopping, but their "victims" may be in trouble as well. Over 20 states have created online databases compiling prescription histories and require physicians to check the database for signs of abuse before prescribing narcotic painkillers like OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percocet, as well as other serious medications. One such state, California, also requires doctors to revisit the database every four months during continued drug regimens.

Doctor shopping statutes may not cure America of its opioid addiction, but it may make access to the drugs (as well as the potential harm to third parties) much more difficult.

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