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August 4, 2018
New York Doctors Prescribing Dangerous Opioids Received Perks from Pharmaceutical Companies
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New York Doctors Prescribing Dangerous Opioids Received Perks from Pharmaceutical Companies

2018 has been another year where Americans are striving to come to grips with the opioid epidemic that has ravaged our country, caused tens of thousands of drug overdose deaths, torn apart families, and left an astronomical cost to American taxpayers.

While the opioid epidemic in 2018 continues to expand – with the opioid overdose death rates continuing to increase in many U.S. states – we are starting to get some answers as to how and why the opioid crisis began and was allowed to continue for so long without serious intervention.

Opioid Overdose Death Statistics 2000 – 2016

Source: CDC Opioid Overdose Death Statistics 2000 – 2016

How Did the Opioid Epidemic Start?

The blame for the Great American Opioid Epidemic cannot be attributed to a single cause, rather its blame can be placed on a series of mistakes, oversights, bad decisions, and even corruption. These series of issues happened in nearly every state – at state, federal, and corporate-executive levels – and over multiple fields within the medical communities.

Opioid Epidemic: Doctors Overprescribing Opioids and Painkillers

Most can agree that a critical factor in the rapid growth of the opioid epidemic was simply the over-prescription of potentially addictive and dangerous opioid-based prescription painkillers. Beginning in the early 1990s, doctors began prescribing more opioid-based prescriptions for a number of ailments, primarily chronic pain issues.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Why would doctors prescribe more opioid drugs that are potentially addictive for ailments where other alternative forms of pain management could be used? Because they were told to.” quote=”Why would doctors prescribe more opioid drugs that are potentially addictive for ailments where other alternative forms of pain management could be used? Because they were told to.” theme=”style7″]

Pharmaceutical companies often utilize drug marketing for their products. These marketing efforts are based off of sales needs, rather than Hippocratic devotion to patients. This means that regardless of whether or not it was the right thing to do for the patient’s overall needs, pharmaceutical marketing encouraged doctors to prescribe more drugs to more patients for more reasons.

In the case of opioid painkillers like OxyContin, drug makers engaged in a marketing campaign to downplay the risk of addiction with time-released formulas, overplayed the need for patient comfort, and even incentivized higher prescription rates. These tactics were not only morally and ethically incorrect, but some of the tactics have now been found to be criminal in their approaches.

New York Doctors Paid for Prescribing Opioids

Source: NYSHealth analysis of CMS Open Payments Database

New York State Health Foundation Findings on Incentivized Opioid Prescriptions

Many studies have shown that incentivizing doctors to write more prescriptions for opioid painkillers has done much of the damage in the opioid epidemic. A recent study performed by the New York State Health Foundation shows the details of how New York doctors were incentivized, and still are – in many cases.

Along with detailed information on the background of their study, key findings, conclusions and results, New York State Health Foundation also gave suggestions on how New York State and other health regions can prevent fraudulent behavior and track incentives in the future.

The report establishes a possible conflict of interest between physicians and opioid manufacturers in the way opioid manufacturers incentivized doctors. The report admits that financial relationships do exist between pharmaceutical companies and doctors, and admits that those relationships can have beneficial outcomes – as is the case with educating doctors on new drugs.

However, some of the incentives were said to “blur the lines between promotional activities and medical practice.” Which opens the possibility that some relationships were taking advantage of loopholes, and that speaking fees, travel and lodging, consulting fees and food and beverage expenses could have been forms of “kick-backs” for the doctors.

Key Results and Findings of the Report Include the Following Factoids:

  • $196,358,287 in payments were made in New York State to physicians from drug manufacturers from August 2013 through December 2015, for all types of drugs.
  • $3,559,398 in payments were specifically related to opioids.
  • The average amount of a payment for any drug was $125. $139 was the average for payments related to opioids.
  • Average number of payments made from drug manufacturers to physicians was 31 per physician. The average per physician payment amounts related to opioids was 8.
  • The average payment dollar amount per physician was $3,852, or $1,050 for opioid relate payments.
  • Insys Therapeutics accounted for more than half of all opioid payments from manufacturers to New York doctors. Not only was Insys’ founder and CEO arrested and indicted on allegations of providing kickbacks for the drug “Subsys,” but New York and other States have filed lawsuits against the company for marketing the drug for broader (and potentially dangerous) use.
Pharmaceutical Companies Paying Doctors for Prescription Drug Work

Source: NYSHealth analysis of CMS Open Payments Database

There were 5 drug manufacturers in New York State that the report found to be providing the largest amount of payments to New York doctors for opioid-related “work.” Insys paid out the highest amount of payments related to opioids, with $1,891,168 in opioid-related payments for their drug “subsys.” Also included in the report, were the pharmaceutical companies Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, and Depomed.

Opioid Manufacturers Paying Doctors

Source: NYSHealth analysis of CMS Open Payments Database

Doctor Payouts

Doctors Who Received More Payments from Opioid Pharmaceutical Companies, Prescribed More Opioids

While it may not have been a shocking revelation, the report ultimately found that physicians who received more payments from opioid manufactures, prescribed more opioids. A doctor who received opioid-related payments from pharma companies averaged 904 opioid claims. A doctor who DID NOT receive opioid related payments averaged 301. This means a doctor who was receiving payments from opioid manufacturers was 3 times more likely to prescribe opioids to patients than a doctor not receiving payments.

Preventing Pharmaceutical Kickbacks for Opioids in the Future

With this report, the correlation has been made between incentivized doctors and increased opioid prescribing practices. However, because the lines are so blurred – and in most cases it is impossible to prove that the reason for over-prescription was based off monetary gain or a kickback – it seems unlikely that doctors will be pursued for criminal wrongdoing.

This report does, however, open up the opportunity for the medical community and physicians to learn from past mistakes and put more safeguards into the system to prevent future abuses of prescription drugs, both abuses from the patients taking the drugs and physicians abusing their ability to prescribe the drugs.

Read the Full Report from NYHealth

Healing from The Opioid Epidemic: Finding Opioid Addiction Treatment for a Loved One

While many in the United States are focused on prevention, and making sure an addiction crisis like the opioid epidemic does not happen again, many families are still dealing with the fallout from over prescription of opioids, painkiller addiction, and heroin addiction. If you are searching for addiction help near you, we invite you to contact us at Intervention Helpline. We are families’ first line of help for finding the right treatment options that fit your family’s needs.

Guide to Choosing Addiction Treatment for Your Loved One

Mike Loverde

Mike Loverde is a Certified Intervention Professional with more than 10 years of experience, and he is the founder and president of Intervention Helpline. He believes in taking a family-first approach to every intervention, and he created Intervention Helpline with the primary purpose of saving each family’s loved one before it is too late.

Furthermore, he is the primary writer for the Intervention Helpline Blog. He is always eager to share his insight and expertise on interventions, addiction treatment programs, rehab insurance coverage, relapse prevention and many other related topics.

Read the latest blog articles from the desk of Mike Loverde here, and don’t hesitate to contact if you have any questions or need intervention help now.

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