As America grapples with alleviating the opioid addiction crisis that killed more than 30,000 people in the country in 2015, the debate rages on over the best way to tackle the issue. One aspect many people can agree on, however, is the fact that doctors are overprescribing these dangerous drugs, spurring addictions that can eventually send patients to the street to get their next high once their prescription runs out.
Why are so many doctors prescribing these pills despite the dangers? The answer is simple: money. A study out of the Boston Medical Center’s Grayken Center for Addiction Medicine that was published in the American Journal of Public Health revealed that one out of every 12 American doctors has received at least one payment from an opioid pharmaceutical company. It was the first national, wide-scale study that focused specifically on opioid-related industry payments.
They reached their conclusions after analyzing the database for the Open Payments program from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. In the U.S., drug companies are required to report every payment they make to doctors under the Physician Payment Sunshine Act. The researchers honed in on opioid-related payments that were made from August 2013 to December 2015. These included not only direct payments but also meals, consulting fees, travel reimbursement, and speaking fees.
More than 375,000 non-research payments related to opioids were shelled out to 68,177 doctors during the period studied, to the tune of $46,158,388. The average payment might have been just $15, but the top one percent of physicians – 681 doctors in total –received more than $38 million combined. Food and drink payments were the most common type of reimbursement, accounting for 94 percent of all payments, but “speaking fees” accounted for the most money overall.
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