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New Study Shows Possible Correlation Between Opioid Prescriptions and Kickbacks

On Behalf of | Mar 15, 2018 | Medical Malpractice

A recent study conducted by CNN and researchers at Harvard University have found a correlation between opioid prescriptions and payments made to doctors, despite that it is illegal for physicians to receive payments in return for prescribing any forms of medication. Here the medical malpractice attorneys at The Law offices of Peter G. Angelos discuss the details of the study.

According to the Maryland Department of Health, there were 1,501 opioid-related deaths in Maryland between January and September of last year. The state has seen the number of opioid related deaths increase significantly in recent years, partly due to the ease in which the prescription medications can be acquired. A study carried out by CNN and researchers at Harvard University found that doctors who prescribed opioids were far more likely to receive some form of payment from a representative of the manufacturer—and the more opioids a doctor prescribed, the more money they would receive.


Statistical data from the study mentioned above showed that in 2014 and 2015, opioid manufacturers paid large sums of money to hundreds of doctors across the country for speaking and consulting services. The study even suggested that thousands of doctors were paid over $25,000 during that time. Physicians who prescribed significantly large amounts of the drugs were the most likely to get paid.

Researchers examined two federal databases, one which tracks payments by drug companies to doctors, and the other which tracks prescriptions that doctors write to Medicare patients. The analysis showed that during 2014 and 2015 more than 811,000 doctors wrote prescriptions to Medicare patients. Of those, nearly half wrote at least one prescription for opioids. Fifty-four percent of the doctors that did write at least one prescription—more than 200,000 doctors—received a payment from one of the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture the drugs.

Further, 72% of doctors in the top 25th percentile of opioid prescribers received payment, while the biggest prescribers–95 percent of the top 10th percentile–were paid directly by opioid manufacturers. Although the analysis does not explicitly state that doctors are paid directly by manufactures to prescribe opioids, the correlation between doctors who prescribe opiates and those who received payment is very powerful.

Conflict of Interest

It is illegal for doctors to prescribe drugs in exchange for kickback payments. However, paying doctors for speaking, consulting and other services is permitted under the law. The practice has long been a controversial one, often defended by claims that it is a way for professionals to share important information and experiences with one another, and the product providers that serve the healthcare industry.

The practice is not unique to opioids: drug companies pay doctors billions of dollars for various services each year. In 2015 approximately 48% of US physicians were reported to have received a total of $2.4 billion in industry related payments. This data is particularly concerning, as it suggests there is growing influence on the healthcare industry from marketers and manufacturers who stand to benefit directly from products that have the potential to endanger consumers. This puts the interests of patients, and the practice of medicine, in jeopardy.

Consult your Healthcare Provider

Although prescription opioids such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and morphine, among others, are designed to help with pain management and suffering, they have potentially serious risks including addiction, heart attack, stroke and death. It is important to consult your physician about all the risks of using such medication, and about any possible alternatives prior to accepting a prescription.

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