Colorado Docs Are Making Bank On Opioid Drug Company Payments, Research Finds

Photo: Money and pills Medicaid

Colorado doctors led the country for the amount of money they collected from opioid drug companies over two years.

Researchers at Boston Medical Center added up payments and gifts collected by physicians from drug companies making opioids like fentanyl and hydrocodone over 29 months from 2013 to 2015.

They found that doctors nationally collected $46 million from the drug industry, this money doesn’t include research grants. Colorado doctors collected $4.6 million in payments over two years from opioid companies — the highest in the country based on population.

“We do know these payments, even if they’re just for small things like meals and gifts, they do contribute to doctors prescribing medications,” said Dr. Scott Hadland, lead researcher on the study published in the American Journal of Public Health. “The numbers are staggering.”

A doctor who gets paid to promote a certain product over a weekend conference would also be included, he said. The practitioners who received the most money, according to the data, were family physicians.

Hadland said more work needs to be done to probe the links between prescription rates and payments and gifts, but he noted other studies show that the more a doctor gets paid for marketing, prescription levels climb.

“I think we need to do our best to drill down and do our best to try to understand individual physicians … and look at small pockets of states where there is prescribing problem,” he said.

Hadland’s data does not identify doctors by name nor does it name individual drug companies.

States may consider putting caps on what opioid companies can give in gifts and money for marketing to doctors, Hadland said.

Colorado’s 472 opioid related deaths in 2015 — the latest year available — were higher than the number of homicides.