Patient Safety or Profit First?

Patient Safety or Profit First?

Denver Post Cartoon About Pharmaceutical Industry

One of the most puzzling aspects of the opioid crisis has been the fact that despite the known dangers of these drugs, physicians have continued to prescribe them recklessly.

What could possibly explain this behavior?

That’s a question we have raised with regularity in these pages. Why is it that physicians have so stubbornly prescribed these drugs – enough of them to literally flood American homes – killing thousands in the process.

Well, we now have at least part of the answer.

Researchers at Boston Medical Center’s Grayken Center for Addiction Medicine have just released a new study of pharmaceutical industry payments related to opioids.

Their findings?

One in twelve physicians—and nearly one in five family medicine physicians—accepted payments from pharmaceutical companies selling opioid drugs during the period of August 2013 to December 2015.

The researchers identified 375,255 non-research, opioid-related payments to 68,177 U.S. physicians totaling over $46 million.

That is not a typo… 68,117 U.S. physicians.

Anesthesiologists received the most in total annual payments, but the largest number of payments went to family medicine physicians.

Should drug companies be permitted to buy off doctors to gain market share for their drugs?

Does such a practice enhance patient care and patient safety?

As we have reported, Connecticut continues to witness large year-over-year increases in opioid overdose deaths. Deaths from opioid drugs in the state doubled from 2014 to 2015, the second-highest percentage increase of the twenty-eight states surveyed.

The CDC recently reported death certificate data for opioid overdoses in 28 states, finding that New York (+135.7 percent), Connecticut (+125.9 percent) and Illinois (+120 percent) were the hardest hit.

And the ratio of opioid deaths to murders in Connecticut?

An incredible 7.35 opioid deaths to every one murder.

What about New Hampshire?

In the past five years, the Granite State has seen a 191% increase in the number of opioid deaths. The ratio of opioid deaths to murders in New Hampshire?

32.21 opioid deaths for every one murder in the state.

Is it time to change the laws regarding physician liability regarding opioid drugs? Should patients have the right to sue physicians who knowingly over-prescribe opioids or prescribe them to those known to be vulnerable to addiction?

Should new laws be enacted to regulate the big drug companies?

These are questions worthy of serious consideration. In the end, it appears clear that patient safety all too often takes a back seat to drug company profits.

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