Opioid model predicts epidemic worse, then better

Opioid model predicts epidemic worse, then better

Opioid overdoses have cut short the lives of more than 500,000 people in this country — siblings, parents and friends — since the year 2000.

And it’s likely to get worse before it gets better.

Scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have created an elaborate, data-driven simulation model called SOURCE to track the nation’s opioid crisis and help policymakers understand it from all sides.

The model predicts opioids will bring more deaths over the next few years before eventually tapering as use of the drugs abates.

Despite that expected decline, in the coming decade, opioids will likely claim more than 500,000 additional lives.

Opioids first burst onto the scene in the 1990s, with overdose deaths involving prescription opioids increasing since at least 1999. Doctors were often unaware, due to aggressive and untruthful marketing, that the drugs were highly addictive. A second phase began in 2010, with large jumps in overdose deaths involving heroin.

The model captures the interconnections between prescription and illegal opioid use, addiction, overdose deaths and more.

Opioid deaths began to rise more sharply around 2013. That was driven largely by spiking use of fentanyl, an illicit opioid often mixed with heroin — with deadly consequences.

The model accounts for factors such as fentanyl’s eruption on the unregulated drug scene as well as better distribution of the overdose-reversal drug Naloxone.

The scientists say they hope the model will help policymakers react more quickly to whatever comes next. Before the drugs can take more siblings, parents and friends.

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