Doctors Got Paid to Prescribe More Opioids, Which Resulted In 42,000 Overdose Deaths In 2016

Opioid addiction is at an all-time high in the U.S. — so much so, it’s been identified as a significant factor in unemployment among men,1 and opioid overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under the age of 50.2 According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), of the more than 63,600 Americans who died from drug overdoses in 2016,3,4 more than 42,000 were related specifically to opioids5 — a 28 percent jump in opioid deaths from the year before.

As if that’s not disturbing enough, recent research6 suggests opioid overdose deaths are being undercounted by 20 to 35 percent, due to drug omissions on death certificates.7 In many cases, the specific drug that contributed to the death isn’t listed on the death certificate, and it’s quite likely that many of the general “drug deaths” are actually due to opioids specifically. According to this paper, a more accurate count would probably put the opioid-related death toll at nearly 40,000 for 2015 and closer to 50,000 for 2016.

The most common drugs involved in prescription opioid overdose deaths are methadone, oxycodone (such as OxyContin®) and hydrocodone (such as Vicodin®),8 and evidence suggests opioid makers such as Purdue Pharma, owned by the Sackler family, knew exactly what they were doing when they claimed opioids — which are chemically very similar to heroin — have an exceptionally low addiction rate when taken by people with pain.

In fact, the massive increase in opioid sales has been traced back to an orchestrated marketing plan aimed at misinforming doctors about the drug’s addictive potential. Remarkably, despite widespread discussion about the dangers of opioids and the high risk of addiction, and despite updated treatment guidelines for back pain that stress nondrug interventions over pain killers, doctors are still overprescribing these drugs.

Paying Doctors Who Prescribe Opioids May Be a Significant Part of the Problem
One of the reasons for this appears to be financial. As reported by CNN, “The more opioids doctors prescribe, the more money they make.”9 According to an analysis by CNN and Harvard researchers, in 2014 and 2015, hundreds of doctors received in excess of $25,000 each from opioid manufacturers, and those who prescribed the most opioids received the largest payments.

Dr. Andrew Kolodny, senior scientist at the Institute for Behavioral Health, co-director of the Opioid Policy Research Collaborative and executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing told CNN, “This is the first time we’ve seen this, and it’s really important. It smells like doctors being bribed to sell narcotics, and that’s very disturbing.”

At least one doctor received more than $1 million over those two years. One of his patients, who is struggling with opioid addiction, was shocked when she discovered her doctor had received such large payments from the drugmaker. “Once I found out he was being paid, I thought, ‘Was it really in my best interest, or was it in his best interest?'” she told CNN.

Dr. Michael Barnett, assistant professor of health policy and management at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health added, “I don’t know if the money is causing the prescribing or the prescribing led to the money, but in either case, it’s potentially a vicious cycle. It’s cementing the idea for these physicians that prescribing this many opioids is creating value.”

via Dr Mercola Doctors Get Paid to Prescribe More Opioids