High opioid prescribers receive larger payments from drugmakers, analysis finds

More than 200,000 physicians who prescribed opioids from 2014 through 2015 also received payment from an opioid manufacturer, according to an analysis conducted by CNN and researchers from Cambridge, Mass.-based Harvard University. 

For the analysis, CNN and Harvard researchers examined Medicare prescription data and information on payments made by drug companies to physicians compiled in two separate federal databases for 2014-15. Analysis revealed physicians who prescribed high levels of opioids were more likely to receive larger payments from drug companies.

Among physicians in the top 25 percent of opioid prescribers by volume, 72 percent received payments from drug companies that make opioids. Among those in the top fifth of opioid prescribers by volume, 84 percent received payments. Physicians whose opioid prescribing habits ranked among the top 1 percent nationwide received, on average, about four times as much money as a typical physician. Physicians in the top 10th of 1 percent of opioid prescribers received nine 9 times more money from drug companies in 2014-15.

"I don't know if the money is causing the prescribing or the prescribing led to the money, but in either case, it's potentially a vicious cycle," said Michael Barnett, MD, assistant professor of health policy and management at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, who contributed to the analysis. "It's cementing the idea for these physicians that prescribing this many opioids is creating value. … They wouldn't be spending this money if it weren't effective."

In a statement to CNN, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a pharmaceutical industry trade group, said drug companies help support mandatory training for prescribers with regards to pain treatment.

"PhRMA supports a number of policies to ensure patients' legitimate medical needs are met, while establishing safeguards that prevent overprescribing," the trade group told CNN.

To read CNN's full report on the analysis, click here.

More articles on opioids: 
House committee to consider 20+ opioid bills over 2 days 
NQF issues guide for safe opioid prescribing: 3 things to know 
Kentucky AG files fourth opioid crisis lawsuit

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