A Prescription for Disaster: One in 12 Doctors Received Money to Push Opioids
When a doctor recommends a medication, you most likely have the expectation that this advice comes from a place of knowledge and experience. We trust medical professionals to analyze complex medical conditions and recommend a course of action that will benefit the health and well-being of patients. At the very least, we don’t expect the doctor’s recommendation to come from the marketing department of a pharmaceutical company. Sadly, that may be the case with some doctors, according to a recent study that found one in 12 doctors received money to push opioids.
The study, performed by researchers at Boston Medical Center and published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that over 68,000 doctors received payments exceeding $46 million from drug companies to push opioids from 2013 to 2015.
According to the study, speaking fees accounted for about 2/3 of the payments doctors received. The research shows that pharmaceutical companies pumped millions of dollars into enticing doctors to push opioids through high-profile speaking appearances, while also picking up the tab for their lodging, food, and drinks.
In exchange, the doctors used the platform they were given to tout various opioid products, fentanyl in particular.
“These are payments directly related to marketing medications and explaining to doctors how to prescribe these medications,” said study leader Dr. Scott Hadland, in an interview with the radio station WBUR. “These tend to be the ones associated with increased prescribing.”
Dr. Hadland’s study, which is believed to be the first of its kind to look at the practice of pharmaceutical companies marketing opioids to physicians, revealed a number of alarming facts. Family physicians received the largest number of payments from pharmaceutical companies, with nearly one in five accepting money to push opioids. Other methods of pain relief, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, were not nearly as heavily-marketed.
In the years that these payments took place, the opioid epidemic in America reached a fever pitch. More than 52,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2015, with sharp increases occurring in the following year. The majority of these deaths came from heroin and fentanyl, which is an incredibly powerful synthetic opioid.
“It’s very common that the first opioid [people are] ever exposed to is from a prescription,” Hadland told the Washington Post.
Today, the effects of the opioid crisis are so wide-reaching that it’s even having an impact on the job market. With cases of addiction and overdose related deaths at an all-time high, it’s hard to find someone who hasn’t been affected in some way by opioid abuse. With the information we now have, it would be naïve to pretend that the marketing tactics used by pharmaceutical companies isn’t a contributing factor.