Elderly obtaining painkillers from multiple doctors: study

Boston – Older adults taking painkillers prescribed by multiple doctors may be more likely to suffer drug-related complications, according to a new study from Harvard University.

The study involved 1.8 million Medicare patients with at least one prescription for an opioid painkiller in 2010. More than 23 percent filled prescriptions from two health care providers and almost 10 percent had prescriptions from three providers. When the group was narrowed down to 1.2 million patients who had filled more than one painkiller prescription, 34.6 percent were found to have filled prescriptions from two different providers, 14.2 percent from three and 11.9 percent from four or more providers.

Compared to patients with prescriptions from a single provider, patients in the latter group had twice the risk of being hospitalized for complications such as breathing problems and drowsiness, the study states.

Researchers called for educating patients about the risks of receiving painkiller prescriptions from multiple doctors and improving efforts at the state level to monitor prescription drugs.

The study was published Feb. 19 in the journal BMJ.