MONDAY, Dec. 8, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Nine out of 10 primary care doctors in the United States are concerned about prescription drug abuse in their communities, a new study finds.
And, nearly half of the physicians surveyed said they were less likely to prescribe powerful painkillers than they were just a year ago.
Researchers surveyed 580 internists, family doctors and general practitioners across the country. They found that 85 percent of doctors believe that narcotic painkillers (opioids such as Oxycontin) are overused in clinical practice.
Around half of those surveyed said they were "very concerned" about risks such as addiction, death and traffic crashes associated with narcotic painkiller overuse.
Almost two-thirds of the doctors believe that tolerance to the drugs occurs often. Just over half believe that physical dependence is a common problem. And, the doctors said these issues can happen even when these prescription drugs are used as directed to treat chronic pain.
But, despite their concerns, nearly nine out of 10 doctors were confident in their own ability to prescribe the drugs appropriately, according to the study published in the Dec. 8 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine.
"Our findings suggest that primary care providers have become aware of the scope of the prescription opioid crisis and are responding in ways that are important, including reducing their over-reliance on these medicines," study leader Dr. G. Caleb Alexander, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in a Hopkins news release.
"The health care community has long been part of the problem, and now they appear to be part of the solution to this complex epidemic," added Alexander, who is also co-director of the Johns Hopkins' Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness.
Doctors and patients need to consider non-narcotic treatments for pain, Alexander said. Options include other types of pain drugs and non-drug approaches such as physical therapy, massage and acupuncture, he noted.
Prescription drug abuse is the fastest-growing drug problem in the United States, federal officials have said. In 2010, prescription narcotics caused many of the more than 38,000 drug overdose deaths that occurred in the United States.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about prescription drug abuse.