Nearly one in 12 U.S. physicians between August 2013 and December 2015 received payments from pharmaceutical companies that marketed prescription opioids, according to a study published Wednesday in the American Journal of Public Health.
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For the study, researchers at Boston Medical Center used publically available data from CMS' Open Payments database to identify payments from pharmaceutical companies that marketed prescription opioids to physicians between August 2013 and December 2015.
According to the Washington Post's "Post Nation," researchers believe the study is the first to examine the practice of drug companies marketing opioids to doctors.
The researchers found that 68,177 U.S. physicians between August 2013 and December 2015 received a total of about $46.2 million in non-research, opioid-related payments from pharmaceutical companies that marketed prescription opioids.
According to the study, payments were most frequently made for physicians' food and beverages, accounting for 93.9 percent of all the payments made. However, the payments for speaking fees or honoraria represented the largest share of dollars paid, at 63.2 percent.
The researchers found nearly 83 percent of the $46.2 million pharmaceutical companies spent on non-research, opioid-related marketing to physicians went to just 1 percent of doctors, which "Post Nation" reports accounted for about 700 doctors. Physicians who specialize in anesthesiology received the most in total annual payments, according to the study.
According to "Post Nation," the researchers found that physicians most often were paid to promote fentanyl, which typically is used to treat post-surgical pain or prescribed as part of cancer or end-of-life care. The researchers found that pharmaceutical companies did not aggressively market misuse-deterrent opioids.
Scott Hadland, a pediatrician and co-author of the study, said the findings indicate that "opioids are being really heavily marketed for pain." He said other methods for pain relief, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, were not marketed as heavily.
Hadland said the study marks a first step in understanding how pharmaceutical companies market opioids to physicians, adding, "The next step is to understand these links between payments, prescribing practices, and overdose deaths" (Zezima, "Post Nation," Washington Post, 8/9; Finnegan, FierceHealthcare, 8/10; Hadland et al., American Journal of Public Health, 8/8).
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