One of the most visible health stories of our time remains the opioid crisis. In the 1990s, when drugs like Oxycodone were first introduced to treat pain, doctors were told that opioids had no propensity for fostering addictive behavior. Today, it is estimated that 130 people die from opioid overdoses every day, and opioid abuse costs taxpayers $78.5 billion per year. Perhaps the most shocking statistic about the opioid crisis in America is that 80% of individuals who abuse heroin report having first abused prescribed opiates. How could we have so misjudged these drugs?
A new study published in JAMA Network Open suggests that there is a correlative relationship between the amount of money spent by pharmaceutical companies on physician gifts and the rate of opioid deaths in a given county. Pharmaceutical companies regularly try to curry favor for a drug among physicians, usually by hosting nice dinners. However, some physician-pharmaceutical company relationships result in gifts of up to $200,000 changing hands. This disturbing finding could help explain why the current opioid crisis is so devastating in certain parts of the country. It could also inform future legislation and industry standards regarding the relationship between physicians and the biomedical industry to prevent public health catastrophes like the opioid crisis in the future.