Nearly 30% of opioids prescribed by doctors failed to show a clinical
reason for the patient to take them, a new report found, shedding light on
roles doctors might play in America’s opioid epidemic.
The analysis inspected data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care
Survey on opioid prescriptions handed out by doctors between 2006 and 2015.
Of the 809 million doctor visits where an opioid was prescribed, 66
percents were to treat non-cancer pain. Five percent were for
cancer-related pain, while the remaining 28.5 percent did not show a record
of pain or a condition causing pain.
“Transparency in clinical decision-making is predicated on proper
documentation that clearly spells out the reason for giving a patient
opioids and can limit inappropriate prescriptions and curb excessive use of
these potent drugs,” said Nicole Maestas, associate professor of health
care policy at Harvard Medical School, in a statement.
Results of the analysis from Harvard Medical School and the Rand
Corporation appear in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.
The most common non-cancer conditions listed were back pain, diabetes and
other chronic pain.
Researchers cite documentation standards as a potential reason for the rise
in opioid use over the last 20 years. Authors of the study hope
policymakers consider systems to help document prescription use more
“Whatever the reasons, lack of robust documentation undermines our efforts
to understand physician prescribing patterns and curtails our ability to
stem overprescribing,” said study author Tisamarie Sherry, a Harvard
Medical School instructor and RAND researcher, in a statement.
Last year, the Department of Health and Human Services declared a public
health emergency regarding the spike in opioid overdoses. In 2016, 116
people died each day from opioid-related drug overdoses, according to HHS.