An Analysis of the Number of Multiple Prescribers for Opioids Utilizing Data From the California Prescription Monitoring Program

Pharmacoepidemiol Drug Saf. 2011 Dec;20(12):1262-8. doi: 10.1002/pds.2129. Epub 2011 Mar 29.


Background: Prescription monitoring programs scrutinize the prescribing of controlled substances to diminish the utilization of multiple prescribers (aka. "doctor shopping"). The use of multiple prescribers is not a problem per se and can be legitimate, as when the patient's regular physician is not available or a concurrent painful condition is being cared for by a different practitioner.

Purpose: The primary objective of this study was to determine if those patients who used a few prescribers (two to five) in a 1-year period were distinguishable from those who used only one prescriber.

Methods: We performed a secondary data analysis of the California Prescription Monitoring Program, the Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System, by using data collected during 1999-2007.

Results: The group who used a few providers (two to five) differed substantially from those who visited one provider over a 1-year period. However, the dissimilarity did not suggest that these patients were more prone to the abuse of opioids.

Conclusions: The decision not to investigate patients who visit a low number of multiple prescribers (two to five) appears to be justifiable. If the number of providers in a given period of time is used to determine if a patient should be challenged as being a "doctor shopper," cutoffs with high specificity (low false-positive rates) should be chosen. Further epidemiologic research is needed to determine the association of the number of prescribers and misuse and/or abuse of opioids.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Analgesics, Opioid / administration & dosage*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use
  • California
  • Data Collection
  • Databases, Factual
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Physicians / statistics & numerical data
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*


  • Analgesics, Opioid