If doctors learned that one of their patients had died from an overdose, they were more likely to reduce the number and dose of opioid drugs they prescribed future patients compared with doctors who had not been notified, according to a new study from the National Institutes of Health.
The study found that physicians who received a letter from the medical examiner’s office informing them that one of their patients died from a drug overdose reduced the number of opioids they prescribed by almost 10 percent in the following three months.
Researchers said the finding could be useful in reducing inappropriate prescribing of opioids without legally restricting physicians. The research team identified 861 clinicians in Southern California who were divided into an intervention and control group. Physicians in the intervention group received a letter from the medical examiner identifying the patient by name, address, age, and the annual number and type of prescription drug deaths seen by the medical examiner. The letter also explained how to access the state’s prescription drug monitoring program.
Researchers said the results indicate behavioral nudges like these letters could be a tool to help curb the opioid epidemic.
The study was funded in part by the National Institute on Aging and is appearing in the August 10 issue of Science Magazine
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