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Primary Care Doctors have the highest rate of Prescribing Narcotics, Study Finds

Update Date: Dec 15, 2015 09:36 AM EST

Primary care doctors prescribe narcotics too often, a new study is reporting.

For this study, the team headed by Dr. Jonathan Chen of Stanford University set out to examine the prescription rate for narcotic painkillers because drug users often abuse these drugs. The team looked at the numbers from 2013 Medicare Part D claims for the coverage of painkillers that contained hydrocodone, oxycodone, codeine and other opioids. These drugs included Vicodin, Oxycontin and Percocet.

The researchers found that in terms of the overall number of prescriptions written, primary care doctors tended to write out the most prescriptions for painkillers. Family practice doctors were responsible for 15.3 million prescriptions and internal medicine physicians, who are also grouped under primary care, wrote out 12.8 million prescriptions. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants wrote out 4.1 million and 3.1 million prescriptions, respectively.

"Overprescribing is a national concern, and mitigation efforts should not be oversimplified or targeted to a select few prescribers, or to regions of the country, or to patient populations or communities," commented Victoria Richards, who is an associate professor of medical sciences at Quinnipiac University School of Medicine, in Hamden, CT, reported by HealthDay via

The team also looked at claims-per-prescriber and found that pain specialists had the highest rate of prescribing painkillers. After these specialists were medical professionals working in pain management, anesthesiology, and physical medicine and rehabilitation.

Experts stressed that better education for and increased oversight of medical professionals are needed to prevent the rates of prescription drug abuse and overdoses from increasing.

Dr. Chen noted that tackling the prescription drug use problem can be difficult.

"Being a physician myself, I am acutely aware of the emotional angst that can occur when deciding whether to prescribe opioids to a patient who may have simultaneously developed a chronic pain and substance-dependence problem," Dr. Chen explained.

The study's findings were published in the journal, JAMA Internal Medicine.

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