It’s not breaking news that the more opioid pain medication that some doctors prescribed during the opioid crisis, the more money they made. In fact, news organizations such as CNN highlighted this practice during pre-pandemic times, including this 2018 report, which came just approximately a year after the marketing manipulation methods of the opioid manufacturers was becoming increasingly more known.
What is revelatory is the extent to which doctors were profiting from opioid makers by prescribing their highly-addictive pain pills.
According to a report by Verve Times, researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health reviewed data from two federal government sources. One tracked drug company payments to doctors and the other tracked prescriptions made to Medicare patients.
What the researchers discovered was that out of 811,000 doctors who wrote prescriptions for Medicare recipients during 2014 and 2015, more than 200,000 prescribed opioids and received payments from the drug makers. Essentially, doctors were being bribed by pharmaceutical narcotics makers.
Most of the doctors received minor payments of up to $1,000. Yet tens of thousands received kickbacks of or in excess of $15,000. And in some cases, FiercePharma reported that opioid-prescribing incentives were some physicians’ main source of income.
The face of the opioid industry was the Sackler family, owners of Oxycontin-maker Purdue Pharma. Earlier this month, the Sacklers agreed to settle trillions of dollars worth of opioid lawsuits for up to $6 billion, though the family members won’t have to admit wrongdoing for their contributing to the opioid epidemic.
Doctors are legally able to receive payment from pharmaceutical companies for speaking engagements and consulting fees, however, it is illegal for them to receive compensation from pharmaceutical companies in exchange for prescribing medication. These types of kickbacks are not only illegal, they can interfere with a doctor’s ability to make sound decisions for their patients’ best interest.
More alarming is that the biggest kickbacks were for prescriptions of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is up to 100 times more powerful than morphine. Fentanyl is flooding American towns, reigniting an opioid epidemic that had seemed to be waning. Opioids, including fentanyl are now estimated to kill approximately 136 Americans every day.