British Columbia

Doctors and pharmacies still doling out opioids to addicted patients, study finds

Doctors and pharmacies are still doling out opioids to addicted patients, and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C. says PharmaNet needs to be used more.

Man receives 26 prescriptions for opioids and other addictive drugs from 10 doctors in 4 months

OxyContin was aggressively marketed as a revolutionary painkiller. But many patients became addicted, leading to a country-wide class action lawsuit against its maker, Purdue Pharma (Canada). (Toby Talbot/Associated Press)

A new case study is reminding doctors of the dangers of opioid shopping — where addicted patients jump from doctor to doctor in search of drugs.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C., which published the study, says a database called PharmaNet that tracks a patient's prescription drug use could mitigate the problem.  

The study describes a 39-year-old man who goes shopping for opioids and other addictive drugs and receives more than 26 prescriptions from 10 different physicians in four months. 

Trina Saby, who lost her son, Kenneth Pears, to a prescription drug overdose, says doctors need to slow down instead of readily prescribing opioid drugs to patients. (Michael Mcarthur/CBC)

The case was revealed during the College of Physicians and Surgeons' routine review of prescribing patterns on the PharmaNet database. It is now being shared with B.C.s 12,000 doctors. 

Dr. Ailve McNestry, the deputy registrar with the college, says the case study was shared as a reminder of the severity of the opioid crisis.

"We consider the fact that 914 people died of illicit opioid deaths last year a huge tragedy, and it is a public health crisis that we are struggling to address," McNestry said.

Saving Lives 

McNestry concedes the failure of many doctors to consult the PharmaNet database has possibly contributed to the opioid crisis.

The provincial database tracks every single prescription medication dispensed in community pharmacies outside of a hospital 

The system, however, is not without its issues.

A doctor still has to get specific permission to access PharmaNet when working from different locations and, increasingly, doctors work from more than one office. 

Access to PharmaNet must also be processed through electronic medical records (EMR) which vary between EMR providers. There is also a fee to use it.

"For most doctors, it's just another system they have to log into during their busy morning of seeing so many patients," McNestry said.  

However, she says doctors can also access information about patients through their prescription history, can call the pharmacy, call pervious physicians or ask family members.

Careful not to discriminate

Gillian Vrooman, a spokeswoman for the College of Pharmacists of British Columbia, says the  case study is important and a timely reminder of the responsibility pharmacists have to review PharmaNet when a patient comes in with a prescription.

But she says that doesn't mean they have to be suspicious of their customers' motives.

"As outlined in the college's code of ethics, pharmacy professionals should not be engaging in discrimination, Vrooman said.

"However, we do expect pharmacists to review patients' personal health information for drug therapy problems, therapeutic duplications and any other potential problems," she added.

'Doctors need to slow down'

Jumping from hospital to doctor to walk-in clinic, in hopes of getting a prescription filled was a reality for Trina Saby's son who died of a prescription methadone overdose when he was 27 years old.

 "He did do narcotic shopping absolutely — hospitals, emergency rooms, anywhere he could get them," she said.

"I'd  phone ahead and say 'please don't give it to him,' but he'd always come back with a prescription," she added.

She says the problem, in her opinion, is that doctors need to slow down and stop readily prescribing opioids for any kind of chronic pain.