A new report traces how a short letter in a medical journal in 1980 helped sow the seeds of today's opioid epidemic by helping to convince doctors that these powerful painkillers carried less risk of addiction than they actually do.
The letter in the New England Journal of Medicine was written by a respected doctor in Boston. He said that out of nearly 40,000 patients treated with narcotics at his hospital, only four addictions had been documented.
Canadian researchers say the letter has been cited more than 600 times since then, often inaccurately, as evidence that the risk of addiction with drugs such as Vicodin and OxyContin is low.
The journal has published a new editor's note warning against that conclusion.