Monday, June 12, 2017

"A one-paragraph blurb helped cause the opioid crisis"

Slate:

Back in 1979, Boston University Medical Center researchers Jane Porter and Hershel Jick found that just a handful of the patients who’d been treated with narcotics at a set of six hospitals went on to develop drug dependencies. Their single-paragraph summary of this result would be published as a letter to the editor in the NEJM under the heading, “Addiction Rare in Patients Treated With Narcotics.”

According to the recent correspondence in NEJM, this single paragraph was cited hundreds of times in the 1990s and 2000s to support the claim that prescription painkillers weren’t that addictive. It was during this period that doctors started treating pain much more aggressively than they had before and handing out potent drugs with little circumspection.

...

Despite these limitations, the stature of this tiny research project seemed to only grow as time went on, like a scholarly fish tale. In 1990, Scientific American described Porter and Jick’s paragraph as a “an extensive study.” By 2001, Time had promoted it to the status of “a landmark study.”