One in 12 doctors and approximately 1 in every 5 family medicine physicians have accepted payments related to opioids from pharmaceutical companies, according to the first national study on industry payments involving opioids.
“We know that half of all overdoses occurring in the U.S. right now involve prescription opioids,” said lead researcher Dr. Scott Hadland, a pediatrician and adolescent addiction specialist. “Our team became interested in whether payments from drug companies to physicians were widespread for opioids — recognizing that this might run contrary to our current public health efforts to cut back on unnecessary opioid prescribing. It turns out that for the first time in the U.S., data on payments from drug companies to doctors is publicly available.”
After the Physician Payment Sunshine Act passed in 2010, every drug company has been required to report the payments they make to physicians in the country. That database — from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — allowed the Boston Medical Center researchers to conduct the extensive study, in which they identified more than 375,000 payments made by pharmaceutical companies to 68,177 physicians.
The payments, made from August 2013 to December 2015, were not associated with any type of research and were classified as “transfers of value,” which included money that was sent directly to physicians, reimbursements for meals, travel as well as consulting and speaking fees.
“What we found is that there’s an enormous amount of wealth being transferred to physicians from drug companies,” Hadland said. “We found that more than $46 million between the year of 2013 and 2015 were paid by drug companies to doctors and these payments were widespread. By our estimates, 1 in 12 doctors had received a payment from a drug company involving an opioid medication and when you looked at family medicine doctors — who are in the frontline of primary care delivery — that number rose to 1 in 5.”
The researchers highlighted that they carefully looked at all opioid-based medications and found that fentanyl was the most common medication associated with pharmaceutical payments.
“I have to draw a distinction here because there’s a lot of news right now about fentanyl contributing to overdoses in the U.S., but the majority of that fentanyl is illicitly produced,” Hadland clarified, adding that the majority of fentanyl prescribed by physicians is for severe pain experienced by cancer patients, for instance.
The other most frequently marketed medication was found to be OxyContin. On the other hand, abuse-deterrent opioids and medications used in medication-assisted treatments, such as buprenorphine, were not associated with paid pharmaceutical marketing practices as much.
“Abuse-deterrent formulations — which were promoted by drug companies as safer alternatives to traditional opioids because they have certain properties that make it tougher to misuse them, to grind them up, inject them, or use them in other ways — were also not heavily market by pharmaceutical companies.”
The payments received by the health care providers from the drug companies were generally… (continue reading)