Are companies paying doctors to prescribe opioids?

By: Shelby Steuart

Financial incentives provided by pharmaceutical companies may be changing the way doctors prescribe opioids. As SPIA Professor David Bradford’s article in Addiction shows, there is a high correlation between doctors receiving money from an opioid manufacturer and writing more prescriptions.

Bradford, in collaboration with two researchers at the University of Indiana, studied the prescription data of nearly 900,000 U.S. physicians who prescribed medications through Medicare. Bradford and his team found that the doctors studied received over $50 million in payments from opioid manufacturers between 2014 and 2016.

The study revealed that doctors who receive direct payments from opioid manufacturers, on average, tend to prescribe more opioids than doctors who receive no such payments. Those who were paid, prescribed over 8,784 daily doses of opioids per year more than their unpaid colleagues. Overall, receiving a 1 percent increase in payment was associated with an increase of 50 daily doses of opioid prescription.

As the nation grapples with the worst opioid epidemic in American history, research like this becomes increasingly important. Examining the factors that motivate doctors to prescribe more opioids could potentially lead to policy change that reduces opioid addiction.