CNN and Harvard researchers analyzed information from a federal government database that tracks payments from pharmaceutical companies (drug companies) to doctors and a separate federal database that tracks prescriptions doctors write for Medicare patients. The results of the analysis found that doctors who were paid the most money from opioid manufacturers tended to prescribe the most opioids. There are many different ways to interpret this data but given the fact that the US is in the midst of a national opioid health epidemic, the CNN/Harvard report raises some important issues that need to be investigated.
WHAT DID THE DATA SHOW?
The federal databases showed that more than 200,000 physicians who prescribed opioids to Medicare recipients received payments from opioid pharmaceutical companies. Doctors who where in the top one percent of opioid prescribers received approximately four times the amount of money than the average doctor, and doctors in the top tenth of one percent received about nine times more money than the average doctor. Payments ranged from hundreds of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
CAN DOCTORS LEGALLY RECEIVE PAYMENTS FROM DRUG COMPANIES?
Payments to doctors from pharmaceutical companies is legal. The payments are frequently for consulting or speaking fees, often in an effort to educate the medical community about the benefits or uses of the specific drug. However, it is illegal for a drug company to financially incent a physician to prescribe a particular drug.
IS THERE A LINK BETWEEN PAYMENTS AND PRESCRIBING PRACTICES?
This CNN/Harvard analysis comes on the heels of a Boston University study published in the American Journal of Public Health in August of 2017. The BU study, using Medicare/Medicaid Services information, found that over 68,000 doctors received payments totaling over $46 million between August, 2013 and December, 2015.
Both of these studies indicate a strong correlation between financial payments from opioid manufacturers and the prescribing practices of certain physicians. Opioid-related overdoses have climbed 30% in just this past year. And the financial and emotional costs of the opioid epidemic are devastating communities and families across the nation. The practices of opioid drug companies need to be examined and the companies as well as their representatives should be held accountable for their role in marketing and promoting dangerous and highly addictive pain medications.