Drug payments to physicians linked to more overdose deaths, study finds

Counties where physicians received more gifts and payments from opioid-makers demonstrated higher overdose death rates than areas with lighter drug marketing, according to a study published in JAMA Network Open.

For the study, researchers analyzed CDC data on overdose and mortality rates, along with drug marketing data from CMS' Open Payments database for all U.S. counties. Data included all fatal overdoses from Aug. 1, 2014, to Dec. 31, 2016, and marketing trends from Aug. 1, 2013, to Dec. 31, 2015.

Researchers found opioid-makers spent $39.7 million promoting opioids to 67,507 physicians across 2,208 counties. They noted both opioid prescribing rates and overdose death rates increased with more drug marketing. For every three additional payments drugmakers paid to physicians per 100,000 people in a county, prescription opioid-related overdoses jumped 18 percent a year later.

"We acknowledge that our work describes only one part of the very complex opioid overdose crisis in this country," lead author Scott Hadland, MD, a pediatrician and researcher at Boston Medical Center's Grayken Center for Addiction, told The New York Times. "Even still, prescription opioids remain involved in one-third of all opioid overdose deaths, and are commonly the first medications that people encounter before transitioning to heroin or fentanyl. It is critical that we take measures now to prevent marketing from unnecessarily exposing new people to opioids they may not need."


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