How Doctors Prescribe Opioids Varies–And Unlucky Patients Ends Up Getting Hooked

February 16, 2017

(Vox) – There’s a huge amount of discussion these days about the opioid epidemic in America: how the overdose rate got so shockingly high and what should be done to stop it. A common belief is that opioid addiction often begins with a single prescription from a doctor: Patients seek relief from some minor problem like a toothache or back pain, leave with a prescription, and wind up hooked. But there’s not much actual evidence tying doctors’ prescription patterns with individual patients’ long-term use of opioids or complications caused by the drugs later on. In a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers tried to tease that link out. And they found doctors’ prescribing habits — whether they give out opioids at a higher rate versus a lower rate — matter a lot.