A Guide to Understanding Doctor Shopping in Addiction

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Doctor shopping is illegal, and, because it is a crime, if the authorities find out about it, it can result in punishment to the fullest extent of the law. In this article we’ll explore doctor shopping, covering everything from what it is, to why people do it, and what can happen if someone gets caught.

What is Doctor Shopping?

Doctor shopping is the act of obtaining controlled substances from multiple practitioners, without the prescriber’s knowledge. This is done to skirt laws about controlled substances and how much doctors can prescribe. Because doctors can’t prescribe hundreds of pills to one patient, some patients opt to deceive the doctor in order to obtain more pills. Patients who do this are technically manipulating the system in order to get more drugs.

How does Doctor Shopping Work?

Doctor shopping happens when a patient visits multiple doctors, complaining of specific symptoms. The patient knows that these symptoms will likely result in being prescribed a specific medicine. Sometimes the patient provides false information to the prescriber, and other times, the patient exaggerates their actual symptoms. They will also omit information and deny receiving other medications from other practitioners. A patient may also deceive the practitioner by claiming they’ve lost a prescription or that it was stolen. In some instances, patients have purposely injured themselves in order to obtain a prescription. 


Most often, patients looking to score drugs through doctor shopping are looking for: 

  • Narcotics 
  • Opiates (pain killers) 
  • Benzodiazepines 
  • Vicodin
  • Percocet
  • Xanax 
  • Klonopin 
  • Oxycontin
  • Oxycodone 
  • Ritalin

Why do people Doctor Shop?

People start doctor shopping for two main reasons. 

  • Addiction – They’re addicted to a substance, like opiates or Benzodiazepines, and need more and more of that substance in order to feel “normal.” At one point, this person may have had one, legitimate prescription. This happens especially when the person has been prescribed the drug for a long period of time. In some cases, a person is introduced to the drug on the street and then goes on to pursue the drug by doctor shopping. Whatever way they become addicted, this type of doctor shopping occurs when patients need more pills because they are hooked on them. 
  • Money – Doctor shopping has become a lucrative business for some patients who see that prescription medication (especially the right kind) is in high demand. Without insurance, prescription drugs can come with a high cost. Also, following the law, some prescribers require proof of injury by way of x-ray and MRI. This is when doctor shopping can be lucrative. If a patient finds a buyer, they’ll work hard, visiting doctor after doctor to receive illegal prescriptions in order to make cold hard cash. Unfortunately, this is most often seen in the world of opiate prescriptions. More than 2 million Americans abuse opioids on a daily basis.

Is Doctor Shopping Against the Law?

Doctor shopping is illegal and it’s a crime, however, some patients don’t realize they can be punished for it. When a patient doctor shops, they often think they’re “bending the rules,” not breaking the law – but that is exactly what it is. Doctor shopping is prohibited by federal law. Each state has its own specific laws, but the Uniform Narcotic Drug Act prohibits doctor shopping. The act, passed in 1932, specifically refers to anyone who attempts to obtain narcotics by deceit or fraud. 

If a patient gets caught doctor shopping, they could potentially be in a lot of trouble. The act of obtaining a prescription by deceit is considered a felony and it could result in prison time and a hefty fine. In recent years, courts of law have been more understanding of the fact that doctor shopping is most often done because of opiate addiction (or addiction in one form or another). Therefore, most courts have an alternative to jail time as part of their “diversion program.” With these programs, a person caught doctor shopping can opt to attend inpatient rehab or another drug treatment program instead of jail. Most of the time, this option is for first time offenders.

In Conclusion

Doctor shopping is a crime and it can result in significant jail time and/or a fine. Patients often resort to doctor shopping for two reasons: because they have an addiction or because they need money. Courts have recognized this in recent years and now offer diversion programs that include inpatient rehab.