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As the opioid crisis accelerated a decade ago, pharmaceutical sales reps emphasized the benefits of the addictive painkillers, but rarely mentioned serious harms — and physicians generally believed the information was sufficiently useful to consider additional prescribing, according to a new analysis.

Specifically, the health benefits of opioids — such as tramadol and hydromorphone — were discussed in 78% of the interactions, but in 54% of the meetings, adverse events were not mentioned. Serious adverse events did come up, but in only 12% of the encounters. Meanwhile, safety claims, such as statements that the pills were well tolerated, were mentioned nearly half of the time, or 49%.


Given the numerous disclosures about opioid marketing that have surfaced in recent years, it is no longer surprising the benefits of the painkillers were widely touted, while risks were downplayed. Such lopsided promotional strategies have emerged in countless news stories and the many lawsuits filed by city, county, and state governments against various companies.

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