The Fight Against Doctor Shopping Rages On

Doctor shopping has become all too commonplace for addicts desperate to obtain drugs, but a new app could help determine whether emergency room patients are faking symptoms of alcohol withdrawal in order to obtain benzodiazepine drugs like Xanax or Valium.

Looking to Technology

Researchers from the University of Toronto created an app that measures the strength of tremors, which are generally the most common clinical sign of alcohol withdrawal. Most patients suffering from alcohol withdrawal have a peak frequency of seven cycles per second. Using an iPod’s built-in accelerometer to measure tremor frequency for 20 seconds on each hand, initial studies reported that 17 percent of those who faked an alcohol-related tremor could replicate the same frequency.

However, the app has only been tested on 80 patients so far. The scientists have acknowledged that further research is required in order to validate the data and improve both the algorithms and sensors of the app, but they are optimistic about its future possibilities.

“The exciting thing about our app is that the implications are global,” said Bjug Borgundvaag, one of the app developers. “Alcohol-related illness is commonly encountered not only in the emergency room, but also elsewhere in the hospital, and this gives clinicians a much easier way to assess patients using real data.”

Doctor Shopping is a Growing Issue

But while Canadian researchers are moving forward in addressing the issue of doctor shopping, the issue has remained at a standstill in the U.S. Prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMP) are commonly ignored by many states. Only four percent of California’s 40,000 licensed druggists participate in a PDMP, while only 15.5 percent of licensed prescribers in Arizona and 21 percent of licensed prescribers in Nevada participate.

Some major chain pharmacies like CVS have even outright refused to let their pharmacists use prescription drug databases. CVS director of public relations Michael DeAngelis said in February 2012 that the company was adequately “trained and prepared” to recognize doctor shopping and questionable drug use by customers. However, two CVS stores in the Florida town of Sanford were raided by state DEA officials that same year – after ordering three million doses of oxycodone; the national average per pharmacy is below 69,000.

If you or someone you know struggles with alcohol or drugs, learn more about the signs and symptoms of addiction.