The new study concluded that drug companies’ marketing of opioids to physicians was “associated with increased opioid prescribing and, subsequently, with elevated mortality from overdoses.”
Read Opioid crisis shows partnering with industry can be bad for public health, theconversation, March 6, 2019.
2019 Study Key Points
To what extent is pharmaceutical industry marketing of opioids to physicians associated with subsequent mortality from prescription opioid overdoses?
In this population-based, cross-sectional study, $39.7 million in opioid marketing was targeted to 67 507 physicians across 2208 US counties between August 1, 2013, and December 31, 2015. Increased county-level opioid marketing was associated with elevated overdose mortality 1 year later, an association mediated by opioid prescribing rates; per capita, the number of marketing interactions with physicians demonstrated a stronger association with mortality than the dollar value of marketing.
The potential role of pharmaceutical industry marketing in contributing to opioid prescribing and mortality from overdoses merits ongoing examination.
Prescription opioids are involved in 40% of all deaths from opioid overdose in the United States and are commonly the first opioids encountered by individuals with opioid use disorder. It is unclear whether the pharmaceutical industry marketing of opioids to physicians is associated with mortality from overdoses.
To identify the association between direct-to-physician marketing of opioid products by pharmaceutical companies and mortality from prescription opioid overdoses across US counties.
Design, Setting, and Participants
This population-based, county-level analysis of industry marketing information used data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Open Payments database linked with data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on opioid prescribing and mortality from overdoses. All US counties were included, with data on overdoses from August 1, 2014, to December 31, 2016, linked to marketing data from August 1, 2013, to December 31, 2015, using a 1-year lag. Statistical analyses were conducted between February 1 and June 1, 2018.
Main Outcomes and Measures
County-level mortality from prescription opioid overdoses, total cost of marketing of opioid products to physicians, number of marketing interactions, opioid prescribing rates, and sociodemographic factors.
Between August 1, 2013, and December 31, 2015, there were 434 754 payments totaling $39.7 million in nonresearch-based opioid marketing distributed to 67 507 physicians across 2208 US counties. After adjustment for county-level sociodemographic factors, mortality from opioid overdoses increased with each 1-SD increase in marketing value in dollars per capita (adjusted relative risk, 1.09; 95% CI, 1.05-1.12), number of payments to physicians per capita (adjusted relative risk, 1.18; 95% CI, 1.14-1.21, and number of physicians receiving marketing per capita (adjusted relative risk, 1.12; 95% CI, 1.08-1.16). Opioid prescribing rates also increased with marketing and partially mediated the association between marketing and mortality.
Conclusions and Relevance
In this study, across US counties, marketing of opioid products to physicians was associated with increased opioid prescribing and, subsequently, with elevated mortality from overdoses. Amid a national opioid overdose crisis, reexamining the influence of the pharmaceutical industry may be warranted.