It has been his life's work. Now, Russell Portenoy appears to be having second thoughts.
Two decades ago, the prominent New York pain-care specialist drove a movement to help people with chronic pain. He campaigned to rehabilitate a group of painkillers derived from the opium poppy that were long shunned by physicians because of their addictiveness.
Dr. Portenoy's message was wildly successful. Today, drugs containing opioids like Vicodin, OxyContin and Percocet are among the most widely prescribed pharmaceuticals in America.
Opioids are also behind the country's deadliest drug epidemic. More than 16,500 people die of overdoses annually, more than all illegal drugs combined.
Now, Dr. Portenoy and other pain doctors who promoted the drugs say they erred by overstating the drugs' benefits and glossing over risks.
"Did I teach about pain management, specifically about opioid therapy, in a way that reflects misinformation? Well, against the standards of 2012, I guess I did," Dr. Portenoy said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. "We didn't know then what we know now."
Recent research suggests a significantly higher risk of addiction than previously thought, and questions whether opioids are effective against long-term chronic pain.
Dr. Russell Portenoy talks to The Wall Street Journal.