Are Drug Companies To Blame for Fatal Opioid Overdose Epidemic?

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Who is responsible for the nation’s fatal opioid overdose epidemic?  A new study points to marketing by pharmaceutical companies as a possible cause.

Just recently the federal government arrested nearly 60 doctors and other medical professionals in a case involving opioid prescription abuse.  Federal officials allege health care fraud, as those arrested participated in 350,000 opioid prescriptions in five states.  The prescriptions included some 32 million doses.

The doctors, nurses and pharmacists may have committed fraud in writing or fulfilling unnecessary opioid prescriptions.  But was there an outside entity that encouraged them to be so reckless?

Opioid Marketing by Drug Companies

New research indicates there was: the marketing practices of big pharma.  And patients died as a result.

Pain Management News writes about the research (“Association of Pharmaceutical Industry Marketing of Opioid Products With Mortality From Opioid-Related Overdoses”) on its website.  Researchers examined how some pharmaceutical companies marketed opioids and found a correlation between those efforts and fatal opioid overdoses.

Pharmaceutical companies spent a great deal of money targeting doctors to market opioids.  The more money they spent in certain areas, researchers found, the higher the number of opioid prescriptions in those geographic locales.  And the higher number of opioid deaths.

The study looked at U.S. county data from August 2015 through December 2016 from three sources:

  • Overdose deaths in all U.S. counties
  • Marketing payment information from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
  • Pharmacy opioid prescription rates from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control

Pharmaceutical marketing of opioids to doctors were identified in three ways:

  • Marketing dollars spent per 1,000 residents of a county
  • Number of marketing payments made to doctors per 1,000 residents of a county
  • Number of physicians receiving opioid marketing payments per 1,000 residents of a county

$40 Million in Payments Made to Doctors Prescribing Opioids

The researchers used marketing information from the year prior to the opioid overdose period, August 2014 to December 2105, to gauge the impact of that marketing. From August 2014 through December 2015, the drug companies made 434,754 opioid marketing payments to doctors that totaled nearly $40 million.

The study found that as pharmaceutical companies’ marketing efforts increased in a county, so did the number of people killed by opioid overdoses in that county.  The most significant factor aligning with opioid deaths was the number of times doctor received opioid marketing.

But across the board, opioid deaths increased when marketing dollars per county population rose; when the number of marketing payments to physicians increased; and when more doctors received opioid marketing.

In terms of rising opioid prescription rates in each county, the factor that had the most influence was the number of doctor opioid marketing payments made per county resident.  Opioid prescription rates also rose when marketing dollars per county capita went up and when the number of physicians receiving opioid marketing resources increased.

The study’s author notes that, overall, they found that one out of every 12 doctors in the United States received opioid marketing dollars from drug companies.  But family physicians were targeted at a much higher rate.  One out of five general practitioners were marketed to.

Recently the federal government brought the first criminal charges involving the opioid crisis against a pharmaceutical CEO.  But there are also civil litigation remedies for those who suffered enormously and needlessly from over-prescribed opioids.

If you had a loved one die from an opioid overdose, you may have legal recourse.  Speak with an attorney experienced in suing large companies over their negligent actions.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.

Authored by Gray Ritter Graham, posted in Articles April 25, 2019

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