The opioid epidemic gripping the U.S. may have been fueled by doctors who gave no reasons for issuing prescriptions to nearly a third of their patients, researchers reported on Monday, according to NBC News.
To arrive at these findings, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, a team at Harvard Medical School and the Rand Corp. closely examined medical records between 2006 and 2015 to determine how many opioid prescriptions had been written for pain management.
They discovered that in 29 percent of the cases, physicians offered no explanation when doling out the scripts.
The revelation comes as the U.S. faces an opioid epidemic that has claimed the lives of thousands in recent years.
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, more than 115 people die each day in the U.S. after overdosing on opioids.
Last year the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency after discovering that 2.1 million people had an opioid disorder in 2016.
The Harvard-Rand researchers believe the crisis may be partly fueled by inappropriate prescription practices for conditions that do not warrant treatment with opioids.
In a statement, they raised concerns about doctors issuing inappropriate prescriptions as well as participating in careless documentation practices.
“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 in medicine.
The study backs the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s call for more stringent measures when it comes to opioid prescriptions.
To combat this, the CDC developed and published guidelines for physicians prescribing opioids for chronic pain.
Recent data showed that health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid pain medication in 2012 alone, which was enough for every adult in the U.S., according to the CDC.
Nicole Maestas, associate professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School, noted that “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."
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