Much has been written in these pages about the opioid addiction public health crisis in America.
It was long ago established that the drug companies covered up the risk of addiction to opioids and aggressively marketed this class of drugs, leaving physicians to jump on the prescribing bandwagon.
And jump on that bandwagon they did.
But was there another tipping point in medical history… one that may have started the deadly slide?
Turns out there was.
In 1980, a physician by the name of Hershel Jick, MD, at Boston University School of Medicine, wrote a very brief letter to the editor to the New England Journal of Medicine.
The letter was five sentences and 100 words long.
In it, the good doctor made an announcement. He had examined the files of 12,000 hospitalized patients treated with opioids and had found only four cases of addiction.
In his words – the risk of addiction with this class of drugs was rare.
Jick offered no data to support his claim. Just 100 words.
The big drug companies know a profitable opportunity when they see one and generalized Dr. Jick’s finding to claim that the risk of addiction to opioid drugs was less than one percent.
500,000 fatalities later – America is facing the worst drug addiction crisis in history.
Interestingly, the number of papers citing Dr. Jick’s original letter to the editor increased substantially around the time of the introduction of the drug OxyContin. Incredibly, as recently as 2006, one paper referenced Jick’s letter to assert: “The medical evidence overwhelmingly indicates that properly administered opioid therapy rarely if ever results in ‘accidental addiction’ or ‘opioid abuse.’”
Was it a coincidence that the release of the 1990s class of opioid drugs coincided with increasing reference to the letter?
Ever heard the saying – “Anything to make a buck?”
Until the mid-1990s physicians were largely reserving opioid prescriptions for cancer patients struggling with intense pain.
As the new drugs came online, Dr. Jick’s unsubstantiated claims of safety became a “helpful” prop for drug companies seeking to vastly expand the market for a very profitable class of drugs.
As we now know, drug companies knew opioids were unsafe and sold them anyway. And physicians soon learned of their dangers – but were unable or unwilling to curb their addiction to prescribing them.
With tragic consequences…
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