At a time when the entire nation is reeling under the deluge of an opioid epidemic, something, which the United States had never witnessed before, a recent analysis by CNN and the Harvard University revealed the nexus between doctors and opioid manufacturing companies in driving the crisis. The analysis revealed how the doctors have been prescribing more and more opioids to earn quick money.
According to the analysis, hundreds of doctors received kickbacks, some as large as six-figure sums, during 2014 and 2015 from opioid manufacturers for proactively pushing their painkillers. In certain instances, the opioid manufacturing companies paid the doctors more than $25,000 for consulting, speaking about the drug, and other services during that period. Those who prescribed larger number of opioids received the highest amount of payouts.
“It smells like doctors being bribed to sell narcotics, and that’s very disturbing,” said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, co-director of the Opioid Policy Research Collaborative at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at the Brandeis University. “This is the first time we’ve seen this, and it’s really important,” said the doctor, a senior scientist and the executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing.
More opioid prescriptions translated into more money
While it is certain that more prescriptions meant more money, the Harvard University researchers were not sure whether the extra money motivated the doctors to prescribe more opioids or the pharmaceutical companies sought doctors who were already habitually high opioid prescribers. However, in either case, it was an ominous and vicious plan, said Dr. Michael Barnett, an assistant professor of health policy and management at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The payouts cemented the idea that prescribing opioids is creating value, he added.
Even patients felt deeply hurt and betrayed when this racket was busted. Two women struggling with opioid addiction appeared disgruntled while speaking to CNN when they learned that their doctors received huge sums of money from opioid manufacturing companies to write unnecessarily prolonged painkiller medicines. Patients blindly believe their doctors, and when the breach of trust is revealed to them, they often feel cheated and demotivated.
According to the joint analysis, during 2014 and 2015, more than 811,000 doctors prescribed medicines, like painkillers, to Medicare patients, and nearly half of them gave at least one opioid prescription. The analysis revealed that 54 percent of those doctors—that came to around over 200,000 physicians— received a payment from opioid manufacturing companies.
The payment made to the doctors was distributed under different names, including research work, promotional work or to speak to other doctors about the benefits of a particular drug, the researchers found. However, all these were mere wraps, while the core was to ensure a massive sale of opioids for the giant opioid manufacturers. The probe revealed that amongst all the categories, the highest amount of money the opioid-prescribing doctors received was for speaking about the drug, consulting, food and travel.
According to Dr. Patrice Harris, a spokeswoman for the American Medical Association (AMA), although such an analysis only showed an association between prescribing habits and payments, it did not prove that one caused the other. Still, one should denounce such a practice. “[We] strongly oppose inappropriate, unethical interactions between physicians and industry. But we know that not all interactions are unethical or inappropriate,” she told the CNN.
Dealing with opioid addiction
Opioid addiction, like any other substance abuse problem, is a scourge, which, if not checked in time, can turn severe and fatal. However, with treatment, one can become sober and lead an addiction-free and productive life like before.
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