This 1980 Letter from Researchers Helped Fuel the Opioid Epidemic

The U.S. opioid epidemic is claiming lives at a breakneck pace. More than 52,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2015, according to the CDC – an average of 1 death every 10 minutes. Nearly 33,000 of those deaths involved opioids, including prescription painkillers and heroin. Now we know how the crisis began unfurling: a 101-word letter written by Boston University Medical Center researchers, published in the New England Journal of Medicine. [1] [2]

The scientists raved that “despite widespread use of narcotic drugs in hospitals, the development of addiction is rare in medical patients with no history of addiction.” Hundreds of scholarly articles would go on to quote the researchers’ assertion. Doctors across the country would take those words as gospel truth, and prescriptions for opioids would begin to skyrocket. [2]

Dr. David Juurlink, a scientist with Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Toronto, Ontario, and senior author of the report,


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