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Projecting the Rate of US Overdose Deaths in the Near Future

Tracking prescription opioid misuse by 2025

A PPM Brief

Opioid overdose deaths continue to rise, and while curbing this trend has led to restricting and combating the national opioid supply, the short-term effects of such an effort remain unknown. In an investigation,1 researchers out of Penn State, Massachusetts General, Harvard Medical, and more, projected the effects of this intervention to lower prescription opioid misuse on overdose deaths from 2016 to 2025.

This system dynamics (mathematical) model of the US opioid epidemic projected outcomes of simulated individuals who engaged in nonmedical prescription or illicit opioid use from 2016 to 2025. The analysis was retrospectively calibrated from 2002 to 2015 model data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, as well as the CDC. The projection compared interventions that would lower the incidence of prescription opioid misuse from 2016 to 2025 based on historical trends (a 7.5% reduction per year) and 50% faster than historical trends (an 11.3% reduction per year), vs a circumstance in which the incidence of misuse remained constant after 2015.

Tracking the prevention methods of prescription opioid misuse and overdose deaths by 2025. (Source: 123RF)

Projection results indicated that:

  • The annual number of opioid overdose deaths is projected to increase from 33,100 in 2015 to 81,700 in 2025 (a 147% increase)
  • From 2016 to 2025, 700,400 individuals in the United States are projected to die from opioid overdose, with 80% of these deaths attributed to illicit opioids
  • Illicit opioid users are projected to increase by 61% from 0.93 million in 2015 to 1.50 million by 2025
  • Across all interventions, lowering the incidence of prescription opioid misuse from 2015 levels is projected to decrease overdose deaths by only 3.0% to 5.3%.

The findings suggest that “interventions targeting prescription opioid misuse such as prescription monitoring programs may have a modest effect, at best, on the number of opioid overdose deaths in the near future,” the study authors concluded. They noted that, in this fashion, additional policy interventions are needed.

Last updated on: February 20, 2019
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