Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Gave Nearly $70 Million to Doctors in New Jersey Last Year
Consider this: a recent report from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services revealed that pharmaceutical manufacturers gave $69 million to New Jersey doctors in 2016, a striking increase when compared with previous years. In fact, $69 million represents a 17 percent increase from 2015 and a 21 percent increase from 2014.
Although pharmaceutical companies are not legally allowed to pay doctors to prescribe their drugs, they can pay for services including: speeches at conferences, lecturing at education programs, and consulting on specific medications. Of course, payments of any kind introduce a gray area that could easily cross the line into bribery. The potential for conflict of interest looms large, according to Dr. Caleb Alexander, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness.
Among the doctors who received compensation in New Jersey, there were a select few who received exponentially more from drug companies than the rest. Specifically, the median level of compensation for all of New Jersey’s 30,000 doctors was $124 per year, while the top 300 received a median amount of $62,500. In other words, the top 1% of doctors received two-thirds of the entire $69 million in 2016.
When Drug Companies Pay Doctors
The next logical question is: does the payment of money from drug manufacturer to drug prescriber change the doctor’s decision as it relates to which medications he or she prescribes? According to an analysis by ProPublica, a non-profit organization dedicated to investigative journalism, doctors who receive payments from pharmaceutical companies tend to prescribe far more brand name drugs, as opposed to generic versions. ProPublica data showed that doctors who received pharmaceutical industry payments were 2 to 3-times more likely to prescribe brand-name medications at higher rates than other doctors with the same specialty.
Interestingly, the area that saw a significant decrease in payments between 2015 and 2016 was prescription opioids. Among this class of powerful pain medications, one drug was almost entirely responsible for the decrease. Subsys, a prescription fentanyl manufactured by INSYS Therapeutics, became embroiled in controversy after the company allegedly bribed doctors to prescribe the medication with expensive dinners, under the guise of “speeches.” Federal data shows that INSYS paid out a relatively minimal $52,000 to doctors in 2016, while the payments in previous years were staggering: $413,000 in 2015 and $241,000 in 2014. Several INSYS executives were indicted in connection with these allegations.
In addition, a total of 25 state and local governments have brought lawsuits against manufacturers and distributors of opioids, due to the rapidly metastasizing opioid epidemic in the United States. While New Jersey has yet to file a formal lawsuit, it is currently participating in a coordinated investigation among several states into opioid manufacturers.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, the data demonstrates that the core conflict between money and medicine is as real and potentially dangerous as its ever been. As patients, we count on our doctors to prescribe the most well-suited medications to treat our medical conditions. However, the pharmaceutical industry represents an entirely different beast, producing drugs that may help consumers, while also serving a fundamental and unwavering commitment to driving sales. Since drugs translate to dollars for pharmaceutical manufacturers, and these companies need doctors to prescribe their medications, a dangerous conflict of interest arises when drug companies provide doctors with monetary compensation. In our current environment, doctors and drug companies are inextricably intertwined, leaving patients to wonder: who and what is the top priority?
At Fronzuto Law Group, our attorneys fight passionately on behalf of those who become victims of pharmaceutical negligence, failure to warn, and medical malpractice in New Jersey. If you or someone you love has suffered harm as a result of a drug defect, prescribing error, adverse drug reaction, or damaging side effect, contact our North Jersey offices anytime to discuss your case and learn more about your legal options.
For additional information pertaining to this issue, access the following article: Drug companies doled out $69 million to N.J. doctors last year