Study finds 1 in 12 doctors received payments from opioid makers that totaled $46M

Pills in dollar sign
Pharmaceutical companies that manufacture opioid painkillers paid doctors more than $46 million over a 29-month period. 

Amid the country’s raging opioid epidemic, a new study finds that one in 12 physicians has received payments from drugmakers that sell prescription opioid painkillers.

Those figures should prompt an examination of industry influences on opioid prescribing, said the study authors, writing in the American Journal of Public Health.

Physician prescribing has been identified as a key factor in the opioid epidemic, which is responsible for many of the 52,000 deaths attributed to drug overdoses in 2015.

The researchers found that 68,177 doctors received more than $46 million in payments from drug companies that market opioids between 2013 and 2015.  

The next step is to understand the links between payments and prescribing practices and overdose deaths, Scott E. Hadland, M.D., a pediatrician at Boston Medical Center and Boston University School of Medicine and an author of the study, told The Washington Post. “It’s very common that the first opioid they’re ever exposed to is from a prescription,” he said.

RELATED: Trump stops short of declaring national opioid emergency; HHS' Price says he understands the 'magnitude' of the crisis

The researchers used the Open Payments program database from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to identify payments to physicians that involved opioids. About 700 doctors received 82.5% of the total payments. Most payments were for speaking fees or honoraria, but food and beverage payments were the most frequent (93.9%) of all payments.

The report follows President Donald Trump’s pledge Tuesday that the U.S. will fight and win the battle against the deadly opioid epidemic. The president, however, stopped short of declaring it a national emergency as a White House Commission recommended last week.

RELATED: Mandatory prescriber education among immediate steps recommended by Trump's opioid commission

The commission recommended a series of steps to combat the opioid crisis, including mandating prescriber education about pain management.

Although Trump declined to declare a national emergency, six states have used disaster or emergency declarations as part of their effort to battle the epidemic, according to STAT.

And at least 17 states have enacted laws that put strict limits on the number of opioid painkillers doctors can prescribe, The Washington Post reported. Some states have limited the duration of initial prescriptions to 5 to 7 days and others have passed dosage limits.