By German Lopez
The opioid epidemic is the deadliest drug overdose crisis in US history — on track to kill more people over the next decade than currently live in entire American cities like Miami or Baltimore.
A new study, published in the American Journal of Public Health on Thursday by Stanford researchers Allison Pitt, Keith Humphreys, and Margaret Brandeau, tries to parse out how America can reduce the death toll. Using a mathematical model, the study brings together research and expert opinions to calculate the epidemic’s death toll and how different policy ideas can stem the toll.
First, a shocking number: 510,000. That’s a rough estimate of how many people will die over the next decade due to opioid-related causes, which include overdoses and other causes of death tied to opioids, such as HIV infections from sharing syringes. But the researchers caution that the number, as with other estimates in the study, are fuzzy and subject to change — given that this is, after all, trying to predict the future.
“The trend that we’ve seen in the last year would suggest that there’s reason to believe that [the death toll] could be even greater, really,” Pitt told me, referring to data showing a rise in opioid overdose deaths in 2017. “But it’s really hard to say.”
The good news is the study found America can do some things to reduce the death toll.