Five sentence letter from 1980 helped create US opioid addiction crisis, study concludes

BMJ 2017; 357 doi: (Published 06 June 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;357:j2741
  1. Michael McCarthy
  1. Seattle

Uncritical citation of a five sentence long letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine nearly four decades ago helped create the opioid misuse crisis now facing the US, researchers argue in a new study published in the journal last week.12 Citation of the letter reduced physicians’ concern that long term opioid treatment was associated with a significant risk of addiction, the researchers said.

“Our findings highlight the potential consequences of inaccurate citation and underscore the need for diligence when citing previously published studies,” they wrote.

Until the 1990s US doctors were generally reluctant to prescribe opioids for non-cancer pain. But after an industry funded effort to promote more liberal use of opioids, particularly for chronic, non-cancer pain, prescriptions for opioids rose sharply, nearly quadrupling between 1999 and 2014. …

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