Published by Newsworks

A researcher at the University of Pennsylvania says one of the big narratives explaining the onset of the opioid crisis is wrong.

Peggy Compton, a professor at Penn’s School of Nursing, said the public often misunderstands the role opioid prescriptions have played in the crisis. The epidemic wasn’t caused by people taking pills prescribed by their doctor to treat pain, she said. That idea, she said during a discussion among pain researchers at Penn, is a “myth.”

“Simply by giving prescribed opioids to patients with pain, we are not creating addicts,” Compton said Friday.

The real problem, she said, is that leftover pills are much more accessible to people who are looking to misuse them. They became more abundantly available when doctors started becoming more “liberal” about prescribing them in the 1990s, she said. People could get them from friends or relatives — or buy them on the street.

“Prescription opioids are easier to obtain in our society than they’ve ever been in history,” Compton said.