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Medically Reviewed

Everything You Need to Know About Doctor Shopping

- 6 sections

Medically Verified: 2/1/24

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

People who suffer from drug addiction may go to extreme lengths to continue their habit. They may steal money to afford more drugs, manipulate their family members into enabling their addiction, and more. One practice that is common among people suffering from prescription drug addiction is known as doctor shopping.

What is Doctor Shopping?

Although you may hear this term and think it refers to the process of selecting a physician for one’s health problems and insurance plan, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. When people doctor shop, they attempt to obtain multiple prescriptions or controlled substances from multiple healthcare practitioners without the doctor knowing about the other prescriptions. In other words, it is the deliberate and manipulative use of multiple physicians to obtain a greater amount of prescriptions than a person medically needs. Even though the medications are obtained from a practicing physician, visiting multiple doctors for the purpose of getting more drugs is a crime that carries major consequences.

People who doctor shop may provide their various doctors with false information. For example, they may lie about their symptoms, deny having any other medications, leave out important information, purposefully harm themselves to get a prescription, or claim they have lost their other prescription and need a new one.

Why Do Addicts Doctor Shop?

Doctor shopping is almost always done for either the illegal use of a prescription medication or the illicit selling of a certain prescription medication on the streets. In addition, the individual is not seeking medical attention because they actually want health advice – they are only doing so with the purpose of obtaining a specific medication. The drugs that doctor shoppers are usually in search of are narcotic painkillers, like Oxycodone, Vicodin, Codeine, and other narcotics such as or Adderall.

Some individuals may begin taking a prescription as suggested per their doctor and the label, but later become addicted. As a result, these individuals want more of their prescription for personal, non-medicinal use. On the other hand, some individuals who sell drugs on the streets have high customer demand for prescription medications. Drug dealers may fake symptoms or visit multiple doctors to obtain prescriptions that they will sell to their customers.

A study published in the National Institute of Health (NIH) explains that not all doctor shopping is driven by illicit drug-seeking motivations. For instance, some patients may visit multiple doctors due to personal illness factors, long wait times, office hours or location, and specific clinician factors.

Spotting the Signs of Doctor Shopping

It isn’t always easy to recognize when a person is visiting multiple doctors to maintain a drug habit. Oftentimes, doctor shoppers are notorious for lying and manipulating people to believe their lies so they can continue their habit and get more medication. Some patients will even travel out-of-state to visit doctors and keep their activity a secret.

Some common signs of doctor shopping are:

  • Faking illnesses such as the cold or flu
  • Complaining about medications not being effective or strong enough
  • Requesting stronger versions of medication from doctors
  • Hiding prescription bottles and medication around the home
  • Selling prescription drugs on the streets
  • Injuring oneself to go to the doctor
  • Preferring healthcare practitioners who are known to be relaxed about writing prescriptions
  • Combining prescription medications with other drugs or alcohol
  • Visiting multiple doctors in a short period of time

What Happens if You Get Caught: Understanding the Law

Many people don’t realize they are breaking the law when they visit multiple doctors for multiple prescriptions to feed their addiction. Ultimately, the consequences if you get caught vary state by state, because it is up to individual states to regulate and enforce prescribing practices. However, the Uniform Narcotic Drug Act of 1932 and the Uniform Controlled Substances Act of 1970 are federal laws that have set some national provisions for doctor shopping.

The Uniform Narcotic Drug Act states:

“no person shall obtain or attempt to obtain a narcotic drug, or procure or attempt to procure the administration of a narcotic drug…by fraud, deceit, misrepresentation, or subterfuge, or…by the concealment of a material fact.”

In addition, more than 20 individual states have enacted their own laws related to this issue. These laws typically prohibit patients from knowingly withholding important information from their practitioners about controlled substances and prescriptions they have obtained from other healthcare providers.

While the laws, fines, and punishments vary state by state, North Carolina prescription drug crimes include doctor shopping. Individuals who get caught visiting multiple doctors for extra prescriptions may be charged with prescription drug fraud, a felony offense. This charge can carry jail time, fines, and even loss of employment if the individual being charged is a licensed practitioner themselves. Some courts may offer defendants an additional option of attending an inpatient or outpatient rehab program, however, this option is usually reserved for first-time offenders.

Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs: Attempts to Prevent Doctor Shopping

In an effort to curb the opioid epidemic by tracking and regulating prescription medications, 49 states have adopted a prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP). Prescription drug monitoring programs, also referred to as PDMPs, are tools that collect, monitor, and analyze electronically submitted prescribing and medication dispensing data. When used correctly (meaning the prescriber enters information in real-time and checks the database before prescribing), PDMPs are highly effective as they can provide health authorities with timely information about prescribing practices and patient behaviors. They can also help catch prescription fraud and track opioid prescriptions for better information about the opioid epidemic.

Get Help for Prescription Drug Addiction Today

Doctor shopping is often the result of prescription drug addiction. Addiction to any substance is dangerous and can be life-threatening. It can also destroy your mental health, relationships, well-being, and finances. If you’re struggling with addiction, the best thing you can do for yourself is to reach out for help before you get hit with legal fines or even time behind bars. Don’t wait any longer. Pick up the phone and contact one of our dedicated addiction treatment specialists in North Carolina today.