Doctors who attend the lowest-ranked medical schools write more opioid prescriptions than doctors who attended the best medical schools, a new study from Princeton University found.
“If all general practitioners had prescribed like those from the top-ranked school, we would have had 56.5 percent fewer opioid prescriptions and 8.5 percent fewer overdose deaths,” said Janet M. Currie, one of the paper’s co-authors. Currie, a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, studied the years 2006-2014 with Molly Schnell, a Princeton Ph.D. candidate in economics.
For the study, Currie and Schnell used the U.S. News and World Report rankings of medical schools. They also used public databases to match all 2 billion opioid prescriptions written in the U.S. between 2006 and 2014.
The study found graduates of the best-ranked schools were less likely to prescribe opioids at all. They found the starkest differences between general practitioners who learned at schools of different rankings.
“General practitioners trained at Harvard write an average of 180.2 opioid prescriptions per year, those from the second- to fifth-ranked schools write 233 per year, and GPs from the seven lowest-ranked medical schools write nearly 550,” Currie said.
The study’s authors believe that the link between training and opioid prescriptions is more than a correlation, it’s a cause.
A big reason, the study found, is that the number of opioid prescriptions drops as more doctors receive more pain management training.
“A distinguishing feature of the opioid epidemic is that many overdoses and deaths can be attributed to legal opioids that were prescribed by a physician,” Currie said. “Training aimed at reducing prescribing rates among the most liberal prescribers, who disproportionately come from the lowest-ranked medical schools, could have large public health benefits.”
The study appeared on the National Bureau of Economic Research’s website, but because it is a working paper, it was not peer reviewed.