Double Doctoring for Getting More Prescription Drugs

Doctor writing a prescription
Double doctoring is a way of getting more medications prescribed than is medically necessary. Universal Images Group/Getty Images

The phrase "double doctoring," which is also known as "doctor shopping," has been used more and more in medical circles, but many patients don't know what it means. It refers to the deliberate use of more than one physician in order to obtain prescriptions for a greater amount of medications than would be prescribed by a single physician.

How It Happens

Usually, a doctor will prescribe their patient a drug in the amount and dosage that is necessary for the legitimate treatment of their current medical condition. Double doctoring happens when some patients actively seek out additional doctors to obtain more of the same medication, or to obtain a different medication which has the same effect as the one they were prescribed originally.

Double doctoring is a problem in the medical field because it is a type of dishonesty that makes it difficult for doctors to do their jobs properly. Patients might mislead or even lie to the additional doctors; they might not disclose to the additional doctor or doctors that they already have the medication from the original doctor. They might obtain a stronger drug, in larger dosage and quantities, by faking or exaggerating their symptoms.

This can result in doctors distrusting all patients seeking the types of medications often obtained by double doctoring, such as painkillers and tranquilizers, leading to some innocent patients being under-medicated for their medical conditions or feeling judged or mistreated by their physicians.

The risk of addiction and overdose has led many doctors to become increasingly cautious about prescribing these medications.

Why It Happens

Typically, patients engage in double doctoring for the following reasons:

  • The patient might want to obtain enough of the medication to maintain their addiction to painkillers.
  • The patient may want to re-sell medications in order to obtain money to buy other drugs or support another behavioral addiction, or because they need or want money for some other purpose. This is a form of drug dealing or trafficking.
  • The patient may intend to re-use the drugs in another form, for example, crushing stimulant drugs (like Adderall) prescribed for ADD) to sell as a recreational stimulant, or to mix with or "cut" street amphetamines. Again, this is a form of drug dealing or trafficking.
  • The patient might want to obtain large amounts of medications they have become addicted to, such as opioid (narcotic) pain medications (like Oxycontin, Percocet, or Vicodin). This can happen when the patient needs to take more of the drug to get the same effect, but their doctor is giving them a prescription for the medication in the dosage that was effective previously and is unwilling to increase the dosage.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Doctor shopping is also the act of seeking a doctor who is well-known among the patient population, typically by word of mouth, for being "generous" with medication types and doses. This technique has become more popular with the rise of electronic patient-tracking, which helps prevent double prescriptions.

The Dangers of Doctor Shopping

Due to the ongoing devastation of the opioid epidemic, with increasing rates of substance use, addiction, and overdose from prescription painkillers such as fentanyl, and illicit opioids, such as heroin, regulatory authorities have been increasingly aware of and cracking down on the process of doctor shopping. Some U.S. states have even criminalized the practice.

At the very least, most U.S. states have created a database that doctors and pharmacists can log in to if they want to check up on a patient who they suspect is a bit too eager for narcotic painkillers. Called prescription drug monitoring programs, these systems are designed to help healthcare providers identify doctor shoppers.

Although awareness is growing among physicians, research indicates that only about half of doctors take the time to use these drug monitoring databases.

These new systems can also help identify those physicians who doll out dangerous medications too casually. Increasingly, state medical licensing boards are gaining access to the programs and investigating the heaviest prescribing doctors in their state. In recent years, doctors have also undergone education and training about the dangers of prescribing unneeded medication. 

The Possible Downside of Cracking Down

Unfortunately, some experts say that the crackdown on doctor shopping has contributed to the current heroin epidemic sweeping our country — heroin overdose deaths have increased fivefold since 2002 to 2014, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As prescription pain meds become more difficult to obtain (and therefore more costly), many addicts have turned to heroin as a more available and less-expensive option. 

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4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Simeone R. Doctor shopping behavior and the diversion of prescription opioids. Subst Abuse. 2017;11:1178221817696077. doi:10.1177/1178221817696077

  2. Young SG, Hayes CJ, Aram J, Tait MA. Doctor hopping and doctor shopping for prescription opioids associated with increased odds of high-risk use. Pharmacoepidemiol Drug Saf. 2019;28(8):1117-1124. doi:10.1002/pds.4838

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What states need to know about PDMPs.

  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Prescription opioids and heroin research report: introduction. January 2018.