Doctors Receiving Gifts From Pharma Companies Prescribing More Opioids, Says Study

The Hippocratic oath that doctors take before they dedicate their life to the noble profession of saving lives directs them to uphold specific ethical standards. Unfortunately though, many are influenced by the likes of Big Pharma, who could have a conflict of interest with the practitioners of medicine, as their primary aim to expand their business is against the doctor’s – to treat.

With the opioid epidemic causing thousands of fatalities year after year, a collusion between the medical fraternity and drug manufacturers is often blamed for it. Doctors have been questioned for prescribing opioid painkillers excessively even for the conditions that could be treated with alternatives. In a recent study by the Boston Medical Center’s Grayken Center it was found that doctors who received gifts and other benefits in kind from pharma companies had been prescribing more opioids to their patients.

The study findings are significant as the government is under increased pressure to stem the crisis by hook or crook. The researchers have suggested that drug manufacturers should cease to market their products to physicians. They are also of the opinion that both federal and state governments should consider capping the number of payments that physicians could receive from the pharmaceutical companies.

Some significant findings of the study are as under:

The three companies associated with the most significant payments to clinicians were INSYS Therapeutics, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Janssen Pharmaceuticals. INSYS manufactures Subsys, a fentanyl-based product which comes in the form of a sublingual spray.

INSYS Therapeutics also accounted for 50 percent of the non-research payments. The perks that doctors received for furthering the cause of opioids were in the form of free meals, vacations, payments for speaking at seminars, etc. The company is now under federal investigation on charges of marketing the spray to doctors and patients under the guise of a “sham” educational program. The company has a history of facilitating drug abuse; a former employee had notified that the company engaged in malpractices such as using the speaker program to coerce more doctors to prescribe their product which should ideally be used only for cancer pain. Doctors wrote 30 million worth of the opiate prescriptions for Subsys.

In 2015, 369,139 doctors prescribed opioids under Medicare Part D. In the previous year, 25,767 (7 percent) of these doctors had received 105,368 non-research payments related to opioids amounting to over $9 million. Non-research related payments were linked with greater opioid prescribing practices, the researchers however cautioned against associating cause and effect.

Payments included speaking fees and/or honoraria amounting to more than $6 million for 3,115 physicians, meals amounting to nearly $2 million for 97,020 physicians, travel costs amounting to $730,824 for 1,862, consulting fees amounting to $290,395 for 360 physicians, and $79,660 on educating 3,011 physicians.

Help for opioid addiction

The opioid crisis is one of the worst public health emergencies the country has ever faced. It has been affecting millions of people across America directly or indirectly. Apart from the prescription opioids, which are considered as the number one public health hazard if used indiscriminately, benzodiazepines and other prescription drugs have also been partly responsible for the country’s grim situation.

Any prescription drug, be it benzos, opioids, or even the harmless cough syrup codeine, is associated with risks. So, while abuse of these is bad, even using the drugs with the doctor’s prescription without being aware of the side effects can be detrimental. Subsys for example was found to have a bad track record and ever since it was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it has resulted in 63 deaths as per the Agency’s estimates. Therefore, when it comes to prescription drugs, it is better to ask the doctor about the consequences and ask if safer alternatives are available.