A study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine (.pdf file) lists what it believes are several characteristics of drug seeking patients:
A patient requesting opioid medications by name doubled chances of the patient being a drug-seeker
Multiple visits for same complaint increased chances of drug seeking motives by 2.5 times
A “suspicious history” increased the chances of being a drug-seeker by 1.9 times
Symptoms out of proportion to examination increased the chances of being a drug-seeker by 1.8 times
Going to a specific hospital site made it more than three times more likely that a patient was looking for opiates
The study also showed could pick out drug-seeking patients 2 out of 3 times just by their intuition. Looking up a patient on the state databases caused physicians to give opioids to 6.5% of patients that would not have gotten them and caused them to rip up opioid prescriptions for 3% of patients what would have otherwise received them.
23% of emergency department patients are drug seekers?
This Annals study also showed that 23% of more than 500 patients presenting to the emergency department for complaints of toothache, headache or back pain met the definition of a drug seeker. This is probably an overestimate of the total number of drug-seeking patients seeking emergency medical care since those complaints are only a small percentage of all the complaints that are logged in emergency departments, but the study does show how pervasive that drug-seeking behavior appears to be in patients with those presenting complaints.
When opiates are withheld from patients suffering from legitimate pain, more anger needs to be directed toward the many patients who scam the system, not toward the doctors who are reluctant to be hit with criminal charges when a drug seeking patient overdoses.