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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that an estimated 130 people in the United States become fatalities of an opioid overdose. Recorded overdoses rose by 70 percent between 2016 and 2017 in the Midwest. Overdose cases in large cities rose by 54 percent in more than one dozen states. In 2017, approximately 68 percent of the more than 70,000 accidental overdose fatalities were contributed to opioids. The number of overdose fatalities was recorded as being six times higher than in the previous decade. A recent study revealed that part of what is driving the opioid abuse and overdose epidemic lies in the monetary incentives received by physicians from pharmaceutical companies.

Promotional Benefits

Physicians receiving monetary benefits from opioid manufacturers are more likely to prescribe the medications compared to physicians not receiving incentives. The study that was published in an issue of the “Addiction” journal explained that payments are often rendered for hydrocodone, oxycodone, and tapentadol. However, fentanyl manufacturers made the largest payments to physicians. The study also revealed that the demographics of opioid prescription recipients is highest among patients receiving Medicare benefits.

From 2014 to 2016, statistics indicate that Medicare patients took 4.2 billion doses of the prescription opioids daily. Records also showed that the narcotic analgesic manufacturers paid $50.3 million to more than 77,000 physicians. Billions of dollars were received by individual physicians and teaching hospitals for research or non-research purposes. More than $927 million was paid to physicians or their families who invested in the drug manufacturing companies or who owned shares of various companies. However, the study found that promotional payments began decreasing by 2016.

Legal Loophole

Pharmaceutical companies cannot legally offer monetary rewards to physicians for prescribing the habit-forming medications. However, They are able to reward physicians for discussing the drugs during consultations, conferences or other speaking engagements. Manufacturers also often send representatives to physicians to promote their medications. The sales pitch may include a free meal or opioid drug samples.