The Moment the Opioid Crisis Began

The Moment the Opioid Crisis Began

Much has been written in these pages about the opioid addiction public health crisis in America.

It was long ago established that pharmaceutical companies covered up the risk of addiction to opioids and aggressively marketed this class of drugs, leading physicians to jump on the prescribing bandwagon.

And jump on that bandwagon they did.

But was there another tipping point… one that may have started the deadly slide?

Turns out there was.

In 1980, a physician named Hershel Jick, MD, at Boston University School of Medicine, wrote a very brief letter to the editor of 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 approximately 11,000 hospitalized patients treated with opioids and had found only two cases of addiction.

In his words – the risk of addiction to 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.

More than 700,000 fatalities later – America is struggling with one of the worst drug addiction crises 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 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 references to the letter?


Until the mid-1990s, physicians primarily reserved opioid prescriptions for cancer patients struggling with intense pain.

As the new opioids 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…

If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol and need help in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Virginia, Florida, Ohio, Kentucky, or Indiana, the recovery teams at Aware Recovery Care are here to help. And we come to you, regardless of where you live. Our unique in-home treatment model of care gives clients a significantly better chance of recovery compared to traditional inpatient rehab care. Please get in touch with one of our Recovery Specialists to learn more.