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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – An Indiana University research team will use $1.4 million in grant money to research doctor shopping, in the hopes of finding out just how big the problem is and what can be done to stop it.

Researchers said doctor shopping is a prime sign of prescription drug abuse, which can then lead to abuse of street drugs like heroin. The group most likely to commit the abuse is older, middle-class white women.

“The purpose of our study is to develop more accurate measures that can detect doctor shopping behavior,” said Brea Perry, Associate Professor of Sociology at Indiana University.

Americans have become increasingly addicted to drugs, especially prescription painkillers. Those hooked can get their hands on them by shopping around to different physicians.

Doctor shopping occurs when someone visits multiple physicians for the same problem, manufactures or creates symptoms, or frequents a doctor actively participating in a pill mill.

“We know that people legitimately hurt themselves, they will break their own bones to obtain access to controlled substances,” Perry said.

IU reserachers will use national, unidentifiable data to determine if there is a pattern involved in doctor shopping and how far people will travel to doctor shop.

Even now, researchers believe that doctor shoppers share information and tell other users, thereby targeting the same physicians.

“It’s against the law, but it’s not as stigmatized as buying drugs from a drug dealer off the street,” said Perry.

The 4-year study has the potential to change the way law enforcement and the medical community crack down on prescription misuse.