How to Manage a Prescription that Shows Signs of Abuse

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As healthcare practitioners, one of our most important responsibilities is to ensure that our clients receive appropriate and safe treatment for their medical conditions. Unfortunately, prescription drug abuse has become an increasingly common problem, with many clients misusing or abusing prescription medications. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), an estimated 35 million people in the United States misused prescription drugs at least once in 2021, and prescription drug abuse is a leading cause of overdose deaths in the country.

When a client shows signs of abusing their medication, it’s essential to take action to manage the situation as quickly and effectively as possible. By analyzing client prescription data, practitioners can detect any patterns that may indicate substance abuse, including early-onset and long-term use of certain medications.

Understanding Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription drug abuse is a complex issue that can have serious consequences for clients and their families. It involves the use of prescription medication for non-medical purposes, such as to get high or manage stress. Various factors, including psychological and environmental, can contribute to someone’s risk of abusing prescription medication.

Some of the most common types of prescription drugs that are abused include opioids, stimulants, and sedatives. Opioids are often prescribed for pain management, but they can be highly addictive and can lead to overdose if taken in large doses. Stimulants are often prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but they can be abused to increase focus or productivity. Sedatives are often prescribed for anxiety or sleep disorders, but they can be abused to induce relaxation or euphoria.

There are a number of signs and symptoms that may indicate prescription drug abuse, including:

  • Requesting early refills or additional prescriptions – People who misuse their medication may attempt to get additional prescriptions or early refills before their current supply has run out.
  • Using medication in higher doses than prescribed – Some people may attempt to increase the effects of the medication by taking more than what is prescribed.
  • Seeking medication from multiple doctors or pharmacies – People who are abusing medication may attempt to obtain more by seeking prescriptions from multiple healthcare providers or pharmacies.
  • Deterioration in physical appearance – Misuse of medications can cause changes in a person’s physical appearance, such as weight loss or skin problems.
  • Engaging in risky behaviors while under the influence of medication – People who misuse medications may engage in risky or dangerous behaviors, such as driving while under the influence.
  • Withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop taking the medication – Abruptly stopping the use of certain medications can cause uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea and fatigue.

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Approaching Clients with Suspected Abuse

When a practitioner suspects that a client is abusing prescription drugs, it’s important to approach the situation with sensitivity and compassion. Clients struggling with addiction may feel ashamed or defensive about their behavior, so it’s important to provide a safe and non-judgmental environment for them to discuss their concerns. Here are some tips for approaching clients with suspected abuse:

Start with Open-Ended Questions

Begin the conversation by asking open-ended questions and encouraging clients to share their thoughts and feelings. Ask them about their symptoms, their experiences with medication, and any concerns or challenges they may be facing. Some examples of open-ended questions that practitioners can ask include:

  • How has your medication been working for you?
  • What kind of symptoms have you been experiencing lately?
  • How do you feel about your medication regimen?
  • Have you had any concerns or challenges with your medication?
  • What has been your experience with other forms of treatment?

Use Active Listening Skills

As the client shares their story, use active listening skills to show that you’re engaged and present. Reflect back on what they’re saying, ask clarifying questions, and avoid interrupting or judging their responses.

By using active listening skills, practitioners can demonstrate that they are taking the client’s concerns seriously and that they are committed to helping them find solutions. This can help to build trust between the practitioner and client and can encourage the client to be more open and honest about their experiences with medication.

Be Honest and Direct

If you suspect that the client is abusing prescription drugs, be honest and direct about your concerns. Explain your concern and what signs or symptoms have led you to suspect abuse.

It may be helpful to provide education about the risks and consequences of prescription drug abuse and to let the client know that help is available. Encourage them to seek treatment or support if they feel they may need it. It’s important to remain non-judgmental and supportive as you discuss their situation.

Offer Support and Resources

Addiction can be a difficult issue to address, and clients may feel overwhelmed or unsure of where to turn for help. Some examples of resources that practitioners can offer to clients may include:

  • Referral to a specialized program or mental health professional who can provide comprehensive addiction treatment.
  • Information on support groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous or SMART Recovery.
  • Education on alternative treatments, such as non-pharmacological approaches to pain management or behavioral therapies.
  • Guidance on managing medication use, including tips for avoiding potential triggers for abuse or addiction.
  • Information on community resources, such as social services or advocacy organizations.

Create a Plan

Work with the client to create a plan for managing their addiction. This may involve adjusting their medication regimen, referring them to a specialized program or mental health professional, or creating a plan for monitoring their medication use.

Using E-prescribe Software to Identify Potential Abuse

E-prescribe software can be a powerful tool for identifying potential signs of prescription drug abuse. By tracking a client’s prescription history, practitioners can detect patterns of behavior that may indicate abuse or addiction. Many EHR solutions, such as EchoVantage, provide e-prescribing capabilities that can help practitioners quickly identify potential issues with medication use, such as:

  • Early refills: E-prescribe software tools can help practitioners to monitor their clients’ medication use and detect early refills or requests for additional medication before the current supply has run out. This may be a sign of potential abuse or addiction, and practitioners can use this information to investigate further or adjust the medication regimen as needed.
  • Multiple prescriptions: E-prescribe software can also help practitioners to detect when clients have received multiple prescriptions for the same medication from different providers. This may be a sign of “doctor shopping,” where clients seek out multiple prescriptions to obtain more medication than they need or to resell on the black market.
  • Prescriptions for controlled substances: E-prescribe software can help practitioners to monitor the prescribing and dispensing of controlled substances, such as opioids or benzodiazepines. By tracking the frequency and quantity of these medications, practitioners can detect potential misuse or abuse and take appropriate action.
  • Prescribing trends: E-prescribe software can be used to analyze prescribing trends and detect potential issues with overprescribing or inappropriate prescribing practices.


Prescription drug abuse is a major public health concern, and it’s important for practitioners to be aware of the signs and risks associated with this issue. By utilizing e-prescribe software and offering supportive resources and treatment options, practitioners can help their clients manage their addiction in a safe and effective manner. By monitoring prescribing trends and detecting potential issues with overprescribing or inappropriate prescribing practices, practitioners can help to prevent any additional harm and ensure the safety of their clients.         EchoVantage can help practitioners to manage their medication use and detect potential signs of abuse or addiction. Our EHR solution includes powerful e-prescribing capabilities that allow practitioners to quickly identify any issues with medication use. Try a free demo today to learn more about how EchoVantage can help you protect your clients and provide the necessary support they need.



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