Doctors launch campaign to fight scammers shopping for pills

PCMS to advocate for State-sponsored controlled substance database.  

Ask any physician in Pennsylvania about prescription medication misuse and they’ll tell you it’s a national problem with the Keystone State one of the worst.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Report from November 2011, Pennsylvania ranks ninth in the nation for drug overdose deaths with 15.1 for every 100,000 population.

While these medications are sometimes stolen from patients, hospitals, and pharmacies, and later sold on the street, what’s equally disturbing is that in some cases doctors are duped to write prescriptions by those running scams, often called doctor shoppers.

In response, the Pennsylvania Medical Society (PAMED) has launched an educational campaign for physicians to raise awareness of pill-seeking doctor shoppers, while pushing for state legislation to arm physicians with a tool – a controlled substance database – to help detect scammers shopping for pills.  The campaign, titled “Pills for ills, not thrills,” debuted at the Pennsylvania Medical Society’s annual House of Delegates meeting in October.

As part of the campaign, an educational reference booklet produced by PAMED helps physicians identify red flags related to pill-seeking doctor shoppers, while also suggesting screening tools to separate patients with true pain from scammers.  Since some scammers may be hooked on prescription medications, the booklet also provides resources for addiction treatment.   In addition, the booklet contains information that physicians can provide to patients on how to properly dispose of medications that are no longer needed.

The ability to access a controlled substance database to help identify scammers is a reality for physicians in many states, but not in Pennsylvania. Prior to writing a prescription for a controlled substance, doctors in many other states can determine if the person sitting in the exam room has already received narcotics from another physician or pharmacy.

 PCMS will work with PAMED  to press for a new law to be passed in the upcoming legislative cycle that would allow Pennsylvania physicians to have the same ability as their counterparts in other states. The proposed database could only be accessed by authorized persons for medical purposes or by law enforcement only in cases where they prove probable cause.

 The booklet is available for free as a pdf at


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