Opioid manufacturers found to be paying physicians for over-prescribing drugs
According to new analysis by CNN and Harvard University, researchers have found that opioid manufacturers are paying physicians large sums of money for prescribing more of their drugs. In 2014 and 2015, thousands of doctors were paid by opioid manufacturers in exchange for consulting, speaking, and prescribing patients these drugs. Hundreds of doctors were paid over six-figures, while others were paid over $25,000 during that time. Doctors who prescribed their patients larger amounts of drugs were said to be more likely to be paid larger sums.
This revelation is an unsettling glimpse into the world of pharmaceutical companies using their deep pockets to get doctors to move their drugs in large quantities to their patients. Dr. Andrew Kolodny, a senior scientist at the institute for Behavioral Health at Brandeis University, told CNN, “This is the first time we’ve seen this, and it’s really important.” He went on to say, “It smells like doctors being bribed to sell narcotics, and that’s very disturbing.”
This comes at a time when the nation is continually hit hard by crippling opioid addictions in millions of people. Many believe that the cause of opioid addiction stems from doctors over-prescribing the drugs, but since this research has come to light, it has shown to be a potential reason for physicians over-prescribing. Harvard researchers have said they don’t know whether these payments are used to encourage a company’s drug, or if these pharmaceutical companies are seeking out doctors that already have a high prescription rate for these drugs.
Michael Barnett, an Assistant Professor of Health Policy and Management at Harvard, told CNN “I don’t know if the money is causing the prescribing or the prescribing led to the money, but in either case, it’s potentially a vicious cycle. It’s cementing the idea for these physicians that prescribing this many opioids is creating value.”
The study was done by examining several federal government databases, one of which tracks payments that pharmaceutical companies make to doctors, while the other tracks prescriptions that doctors write to patients who are currently enrolled in Medicare. They found that during the 2014-2015 time, over 400,000 wrote a least one prescription for opioids. Digging deeper, they found that a little more than half of those doctors received a payment from these pharmaceutical companies who manufacture opioids.
Through further analysis of the data, it shows that doctors who were ranked among the top 5 percent of opioid prescribers received twice as much money from these opioid manufacturers. Those who were in the top 1 percent received an average of four times as much money, and the top 10th of the 1 percent received a staggering nine times more than a typical doctor.
Paying doctors for speaking or consulting is legal, but the practice has been surrounded in controversy for some time. Pharmaceutical companies have long paid physicians for various services, but it is illegal for doctors to prescribe a certain medication in exchange for payments from the manufacturer. Despite this, it is disheartening for many to hear that their physicians could possibly be involved in this, especially considering the high level of trust that many place in them.