The average American is more likely to overdose on opioids than to die in a car accident, according to the National Safety Council2. Though the opioid epidemic is multifactorial, licensed physicians who overprescribe drugs are a major part of the problem. Why would doctors knowingly tell patients to take a pill they don’t need? For money. After being paid by drug companies, doctors tend to prescribe more daily doses and more expensive medications than unpaid physicians.
A 2018 study divided a sample of physicians into those who received payments from drug companies and those who did not. Researchers gathered statistics on the average annual cost, daily doses, and price per daily dose of prescribed opioids. They collected data from 2013 (before payment) and 2014 or 2015 (after payment). Physicians paid by drug companies prescribed an average of $6,171 more opioids than unpaid physicians in the same timeframe. Paid doctors also prescribed nearly 1,500 more daily doses in 2014 or 2015 than in 2013, whereas comparison physicians actually prescribed slightly fewer doses. Some might argue that these differences are simply coincidental. Because they had such a low chance of occurring randomly (p < 0.0001), payments from drug companies must have affected how much medication doctors prescribed to their patients. Not only did doctors prescribe significantly more doses after being paid by drug companies– they also tended to prescribe more expensive drugs. Doctors’ average daily dose prescription increased by $0.37 post-payment. Though this increase might seem trivial, it is statistically significant when compared to the $0.01 difference in comparison physicians’ doses (p < 0.0001).
Physicians who received money from drug companies prescribed more medication after payment than before payment. They also prescribed more expensive drugs and more doses than unpaid physicians in the same timeframe. Patients and their caregivers rely on doctors to objectively prescribe medication based only on medical necessity. However, patients should be aware that physicians may overprescribe medication due to monetary influence.
¹Zezza, M. A., & Bachhuber, M. A. (2018). PloS one, 13(12), e0209383. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0209383
2 “Odds of Dying.” Injury Facts, National Safety Council, 2017