A Washington Post examination of doctors’ prescription data show that certain doctors routinely prescribe some medications far more than their peers and some of them have a long history of sanctions by professional disciplinary boards for unethical and unprofessional behavior, including overprescribing medications to patients who may have been using them to get high instead of well. State boards that oversee medical misconduct say overprescribing is a huge problem that they take very seriously.
Illicit use of prescription medicine has become the nation’s “fastest-growing drug problem,” says White House drug policy director Gil Kerlikowske. Many doctors are prescribing more highly addictive drugs without fully understanding how hooked people can become, he said. Doctors “don’t get very much, if any, training in dependence, in addiction, in pain management,” he said. The drugs driving the problem are opioid analgesics, which among teenagers are more popular than marijuana, says a 2006 federal study. Prescriptions for two common opioids, hydrocodone and oxycodone, jumped from 44 million in 1991 to 179 million in 2009, says the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “I don’t think anyone believes that pain has increased that substantially,” Kerlikowske said.