County By County, Researchers Link Opioid Deaths To Drugmakers’ Marketing

By Victoria Knight

Researchers sketched a vivid line Friday linking the dollars spent by drugmakers to woo doctors around the country to a vast opioid epidemic that has led to tens of thousands of deaths.

The study, published in JAMA Network Open, looked at county-specific federal data and found that the more opioid-related marketing dollars were spent in a county, the higher the rates of doctors who prescribed those drugs and, ultimately, the more overdose deaths occurred in that county.

For each three additional payments made to physicians per 100,000 people in a county, opioid overdose deaths were up 18 percent, according to the study. The researchers said their findings suggest that “amid a national opioid overdose crisis, reexamining the influence of the pharmaceutical industry may be warranted.”

And the researchers noted that marketing could be subtle or low-key. The most common type: meals provided to doctors.

Dr. Scott Hadland, the study’s lead author and an addiction specialist at Boston Medical Center’s Grayken Center for Addiction, has conducted previous studies connecting opioid marketing and opioid prescribing habits.

“To our knowledge, this is the first study to link opioid marketing to a potential increase in prescription opioid overdose deaths, and how this looks different across counties and areas of the country,” said Hadland, who is also a pediatrician.

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