First Look: New Analysis Reveals Links Between Payments from Opioid Manufacturers and Physician Prescriptions

Today a new analysis of government data made available to consumers for the first time reveals the relationship between payments made by pharmaceutical companies to physicians, the number of prescriptions arising from physicians who received those payments, and the cost and consequences to consumers as a result.

“Possible Side Effects: Investigating the Connection Between Payments from Pharmaceutical Companies and the Prescribing Habits of Physicians” found that physicians who accepted a payment from a pharmaceutical company manufacturer related to a specific opioid drug were 14.5 times more likely to prescribe that drug over a similar alternative. The larger study results also found that physicians receiving at least one industry payment from a pharmaceutical company for any specific brand-name drug were five (5) times more likely to prescribe that drug over alternatives, including lower cost generic drugs. Between 2014 and 2016, physicians in the U.S. received a total of $6.2 billion in payments from pharmaceutical companies.

“This study reaffirms the potential influence pharmaceutical companies have on physician prescribing practices, which can lead to possible risks for patients,” said Dr. Aaron S. Kesselheim, M.D., J.D., an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School/Brigham and Women’s Hospital and leading global expert on bioethics, pharmaceutical law, and regulatory policies, who reviewed the study methodology and results. “The results demonstrate the importance of measures to improve transparency of these payments, such as the Physician Payments Sunshine Act of 2010, and the need to ensure that physicians have access to reliable, non-industry-sponsored sources of drug information that can maximize evidence-based prescribing practices.”

The analysis was compiled by CareDash.com, the healthcare provider review site dedicated to transparency. “This analysis pulls back the curtain on the influence pharmaceutical companies may have on a patient’s course of treatment and allows patients to make more informed healthcare choices,” said Ted Chan, Founder and CEO of CareDash. “Patients have the right to know about their doctors’ motivations, any potential conflicts of interest, and should be aware of the connection between the marketing practices of pharmaceutical manufacturers and the drugs they are prescribed by their physician. With this information, patients can feel empowered to ask and fully understand their options, whether that be an alternative branded prescription or a more cost-effective generic.”

Prescription drug spending in the U.S. comprised about 17-20% of all healthcare spending and invoice spending on medicines is expected to reach $580B-$610B by 2021. The vast majority of this cost comes from brand-name prescription drugs. A 2016 study found that brand-name drugs account for 72% of total drug spending despite comprising just 10% of all prescriptions. Additionally, a 2017 study, “Public Awareness of and Contact With Physicians Who Receive Industry Payments: A National Survey,” found that 65% of patients had seen a physician who received payments over the previous 12 months, but only 5% of patients were aware of that fact.

To learn more about the study and its findings, click here.

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