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Study Finds That Doctors Who Receive Perks From Drug Companies Prescribe 9 Percent More Opioids

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A May 2018 study found that doctors who received more gifts from drug companies prescribed 9 percent more opioids to patients. The gifts included payments, speaking fees, and free meals.  ( Steve Buissinne | Pixabay )

Amid the opioid epidemic getting worse in the United States, researchers believe that some doctors are prescribing too many opioids because of the perks that they receive from drug companies.

Link Between Opioids And Perks For Doctors

A study from Boston Medical Center's Grayken Center for Addiction found a link between the perks that drug companies give doctors and opioid prescriptions. The research showed that more gifts from pharmaceutical companies greatly convinced doctors to prescribe more opioids for patients.

The study was published on May 14 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

"Amidst national efforts to curb the overprescribing of opioids, our findings suggest that manufacturers should consider a voluntary decrease or complete cessation of marketing to physicians," wrote Dr. Scott Hadland, one of the researchers involved in the study.

The researchers discovered that the doctors who prescribed the most opioids in a certain period of time received the most perks. Examples of perks include payments, speaking fees, vacations, and free meals.

According to the CDC, 46 people die every day from prescription opioid overdoses. Some doctors are prescribing opioids either too often or with a dose that is too high.

The company that paid doctors the most money, Insys Therapeutics, is currently under a federal investigation. It paid $4.5 million a year to doctors.

A Look At The Numbers Between Opioid Prescriptions And Gifts

Researchers examined the Medicare databases and the Open Payments database. They reviewed pharmaceutical payments and gifts from 2014, and corresponded the data with opioids prescribed during 2015.

Of the 370,000 doctors who prescribed opioids to Medicare Part D Patients, 26,000 received a payment or gift. A total of 436 doctors received more than $1,000.

Doctors who received those perks prescribed 9 percent more opioids the following year. Although most doctors in the United States are trying to cut down on their opioid prescriptions, these doctors are doing the opposite.

"Each meal received in 2014 was associated with an increasing number of opioid claims in 2015." wrote the researchers.

What Should Be Done About Doctors Receiving Perks For Opioid Prescriptions?

In the future, the government should try to cap the number of gifts that each doctor can receive from drug companies. In addition, drug companies need to examine their marketing practices with doctors.

"Our data suggest that the influence of marketing on physicians' prescribing is subtle yet widespread, and the pharmaceutical industry must look beyond their bottom lines and make changes to their marketing strategies in order to play a role in helping curb opioid overdose deaths," wrote Hadland.

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