In 2005, the FDA approved a new treatment for pain, administered through a patch on the patient's skin. The drug's approval coincided with a movement in the medical profession towards treating pain as the “fifth vital sign,” leading doctors to take more aggressive steps to deal with pain. By 2012, doctors were prescribing the drug, called fentanyl, over 255 million times a year throughout the U.S. For millions of Americans, these legal prescriptions intended to help their chronic pain had already pulled them into opioid dependency. The role of doctors in creating the current national crisis cannot be ignored.
Fentanyl is now one of the most infamous drugs of America's opioid epidemic, which claimed more than 30,000 lives by accidental overdose in 2016 alone. While about half of those deaths were from heroin and other illegally obtained opiates, most opiate-users started taking opiates prescribed by their doctors. Troublingly, many of these doctors — one in 12, according to Boston Medical Center researchers — received money from opioid manufacturing companies.