Patients use well-intentioned transparency database to find doctors who “freely prescribe” opioid painkillers

Journalism nonprofit ProPublica says readers have been using its Prescriber Checkup database–which tracks drugs that doctors prescribe for Medicare patients–to find doctors willing to “freely prescribe” opioids and other potentially addictive drugs.

Editor-in-chief Stephen Engelberg writes the site will keep the tool—also used by doctors and reporters—in place, with a warning on the risks of opioid painkillers. 

From his post:

Like nearly everyone on the web, we use Google Analytics to collect data on our site. So far this year, it appears that perhaps as many as 25 percent of Prescriber Checkup’s page views involve narcotic painkillers, anti-anxiety medications, and amphetamines.
Thousands of the people visiting those pages initially viewed the “reporting recipe” we wrote to help local journalists identify doctors who ranked among the top prescribers of narcotics. The readership for this recipe far exceeds any reasonable estimate of local or regional journalists researching stories. According to our web data, many readers also arrived at Prescriber Checkup after web searches like “doctors who prescribe narcotics easily” or “doctors that will prescribe anything.”