Are Companies Paying Doctors to Prescribe Opioids?

By: Shelby Steuart

SPIA Professor Dr. David Bradford has a new article published in the journal, Addiction, called “Pharmaceutical payments to physicians may increase prescribing for opioids.” The article looks at the effect of receiving payments from opioids manufacturers on doctors’ opioid prescribing habits. Bradford worked on this project with two researchers at the University of Indiana.

The prescription data for this project included almost 900,000 U.S. physicians, who prescribed medications through the federal program Medicare Part D, from 2014 to 2016. Bradford and his team used Open Payments, a website that makes pharmaceutical company payments to physicians public, and saw that opioid makers made over $50 million in payments to doctors between 2014 and 2016.

Bradford’s research found that prescribers who received opioid-specific payments prescribed “8784 opioid daily doses per year more than their peers who did not receive any such payments.” The team found that overall, receiving a 1 percent increase in payment was associated with an increase of 50 daily doses of opioid prescription. This shows that in the United States, doctors who receive direct payments from opioid producers often prescribe much larger quantities of opioids, particularly for hydrocodone and oxycodone.

Research examining the factors that lead to doctors prescribing more opioids than necessary is incredibly important as the nation grapples with the worst opioid epidemic in American history. Learning about what motivates doctors to prescribe more opioids could potentially lead to policy that helps address overprescription.