The Majority of Doctors Prescribe Opioids More Often Than They Think: Study

The Majority of Doctors Prescribe Opioids More Often Than They Think: Study

Do you really need that pain killer? Doctors mean well, but aren’t entirely aware of their actions, these researchers discovered.

The opioid crisis in North America continues as you read this. Over 60,000 people died from an overdose caused by prescription painkillers in the United States in 2016 and that number is expected to climb in 2018.

Yes, 60,000 individuals- that’s more than the entire American death count in the Vietnam War.

Why are people able to get their hands on this stuff? There’s a simple answer: in addition to other routes, doctors prescribe the medicine.

Yes, at times, opioid-based painkillers are a logical solution. When a cancer patient is dying and suffering, treating their pain in the best way possible is logical.

But in other cases, the reality is different. Statistics point out that painkillers are much overused. The trouble is, those prescribing them don’t seem aware of their actions.

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A recent study completed by researchers at the University of Colorado and the University of Massachusetts Medical School found that 65 percent of emergency department (ED) physicians surveyed underestimated how often they prescribed highly addictive painkillers to patients.

“We surveyed 109 emergency medicine providers at four different hospital EDs,” said study author Sean Michael, MD, MBA.  “We asked them to report their perceived opioid prescribing rates compared to their peers. Then we showed them where they actually were on that spectrum.”

The result? Doctors seemed shocked at their own behavior. And thankfully, they then changed it, if only a bit.

The majority of doctors involved wrote 2 fewer opioid pain killer prescriptions for every 100 patients over a year, after seeing the study.

“Most (doctors) believe they are doing the right thing,” said Dr. Michael, “but we need to directly address this thinking to be sure they are not part of the problem.”

According to the CDC, people who use prescription opioids non-medically for 200 or more days in a given year are at greatest risk of overdosing.

Photo credits: TippaPatt/

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