WRAL Investigates

'Doctor shopping' common for prescription drug abusers

North Carolina drug investigators now list the illegal use of prescription drugs as one of the most common problems in the state.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina drug investigators now list the illegal use of prescription drugs as one of the most common problems in the state.

The way people go about manipulating the system to get these medications is so common that it even has a name – "doctor shopping," NC Wanted found.

"It's a monster that lives inside your head," said "Jane," a Raleigh mother convicted of felony prescription fraud who wants her identity concealed. "You can choose to feed it or choose to let it die away."

Jane says her nightmare began several years ago after a doctor prescribed a 10-day supply of Tussionex, a cough medicine containing the opiate painkiller hydrocodone.

After 10 days though, she wanted more. "I believe the cycle had begun," Jane recalled.

Narcotics, particularly opiates, have tremendous addictive potential, says Dr. Kenneth Carnes, a Raleigh neurologist and psychologist.

"The craving people have for narcotics or opiates is very close or very similar to the craving for nicotine or cigarettes," Carnes said.

Jane's secret addiction lasted four years, and to feed it, she rotated visits among more than 20 doctors.

"I would just go to the doctor with different complaints of either pain or sinus infection with a cough and be given these prescriptions," she said.

Trying to figure our which doctor to go to and where to get prescriptions filled would consume her day, Jane says.

She would make relentless withdrawals from her and her husband's joint banking accounts and make cash payments.

"Any way I could find money in our bank account, to do it, or whatever, I would do it,” she said.

Jane's actions and decisions fit a pattern doctors, like Carnes, are learning to recognize.

"There are a number of red flags we look for – patients who come in with a primary pain complaint but are very sketchy about their background," he said. "They often don't present insurance.”

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services now has a statewide database that doctors use to record and track prescriptions.

That's how Jane finally got caught.

"I was at home and got a phone call," she said. "They said they had information about medications I had been obtaining and needed to speak with me. I was shocked at that moment."

Doctor shopping not only affected Jane's health but left her with a criminal record.

She said between doctor visits and the cost per bottle, she pulled nearly $200,000 from her family bank account.

Now she is on probation. A relapse could send her to jail.

The monster, she says, lingers.

"As long as I don't participate with him and feed it, it’s OK," Jane says. "But as soon as I take the first step to allow it any room, it will be right back."

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