Jan. 22 (UPI) -- Physicians who receive financial incentives from drug companies may be more likely to overprescribe opioids, a new study says.
On average, doctors who received opioid-related promotional payments prescribed over 13,000 daily doses more of opioids annually than those who didn't, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal Addiction.
"Our work supports earlier research on the pharma-physician relationship with respect to opioid prescriptions and offers more comprehensive evidence on the role of opioid-related promotional activities, including how prescribing may be affected by the extent and intensity of payments," Thuy Nguyen, a researcher at Indiana University's School of Public and Environmental Affairs, said in a news release.
The opioid prescription data came from the Medicare Part D Prescriber Public Use File, which tracks prescriptions for people who receive Medicare benefits.
Researchers analyzed data on more than 63,000 physicians who accepted payments from marketers between 2014 and 2016, comparing their prescription records to those of more 800,000 physicians who did not accept such payments.
While it's illegal for drug companies to pay doctors to prescribe drugs, they can pay them for consulting work and promote their drugs at conferences speaking engagements. This enticement to overprescribe could be driving the nation's opioid overdose crisis, analysts have said with increasing frequency in recent years.
A study published last week revealed that drug companies spent nearly $40 million on marketing to nearly 68,000 doctors in more than 2,208 counties U.S. counties between 2013 and 2016.
During that time, deaths from overdoses rose by 18 percent for every three payments to physicians per 100,000 residents in a county. Overall, in 2017 alone, nearly 50,000 people died of overdoses related to opioids.
"Put simply, drug-related payments to physicians seem to increase drug prescriptions, and higher payments seem to increase them more," Nguyen said.