A new report found that New York doctors who received payments from opioid manufacturers were more likely to prescribe opioids to their patients. More disturbingly, the report, released by the New York State Health Foundation, found that as payments from the drug manufacturers to the doctors increased the prescription rate for their addictive painkillers increased almost lock-step. Overall, opioid manufacturers paid more than $3.5 million to New York state doctors between 2013 and 2015, as the opioid problem in the country began to reach epidemic levels.
According to the New York State Health Foundation, a nonprofit foundation established less than a decade ago, roughly one in 10 physicians received payouts from opioid manufacturers. The President and CEO, David Sandman bluntly said, “The more money you get, the more opioids you prescribe.” The data released by the agency confirms his statement. Doctors who received less than $20 from opioid manufacturers – approximately the cost of lunch or dinner – billed Medicare for an average of $34,000 just for opiates, which include hydrocodone, oxycontin, and fentanyl.
If the doctor received between $20 to $50 from the drug companies, the average billing went up to $50,000. For the 3,000 New York physicians who received more than $1,000 from these companies, Medicare was billed an astounding $1.24 million just in opioid prescriptions. The doctors who received payments from opioid manufacturers increased their prescriptions for these dangerous and addictive drugs by almost 37.2 percent in just two years. Doctors who did not receive any payment from the drug companies increased their prescriptions by just 15.6 percent.
For the most part, these payments were for meals between doctors and pharmaceutical representatives. However, for some doctors these payments were for pricy speaking fees, typically advocating for the drugs or explaining a drug-company sponsored research study. Other doctors received “honors” from the drug companies, which included payments. Amazingly, this financial arrangement between doctors and pharmaceutical companies is completely legal. In response to the high prescribing rate for doctors who have been paid by the pharmaceutical companies, the New York State Office of Professional Medical Conduct told Buffalo News, “Any physician who chooses to prescribe any medication for reasons other than patient need faces the threat of significant sanction from the [agency].”
The foundation’s report found that drug companies, of all kinds, paid almost $200 million to doctors across the country between 2013 and 2015, which according to the report “spurs larger concerns about how doctors and drug makers interact.” With the opioid crisis harming communities across America, New Yorkers are pointing the blame at these drug companies. A recent Siena College poll found that 81 percent of New Yorkers hold opioid manufacturers responsible for the current crisis. With more than enough evidence of its harm, lawmakers in Albany should take note and end this irresponsible practice of allowing pharmaceutical companies to line the pockets of doctors.