The Opioid Epidemic Projected to Get a Lot Worse Before it Gets Better

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Author: Shernide Delva

If you thought all the attention surrounding the opioid epidemic would result in immediate progress, think again.

According to experts, things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.

But just how bad will it get?

Leading public experts agree the epidemic of people dying from opioids could reach up to a half million over the next decade.

Experts at ten universities were asked to project the death toll from opioid overdoses over the next decade. If the worst-case scenario plays out, by 2027, we could be losing 250 people every day to heroin/painkillers in the United States. Right now, that number is closer to 100 deaths per day.

Even scarier, substances like fentanyl and carfentanil, which are many times stronger than heroin, continue to drive up the death toll.

Recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that in 2015, at least 33,000 people died from a fatal opioid overdose. Nearly half of those deaths involved prescription opioids like OxyContin or Percocet.

Still, there is hope that the death toll won’t continue to rise as fast as it currently is. In the best case scenario, STAT predicts 21,300 opioid deaths in 2027 which is lower than 2015 numbers. However, getting to this point will require major investments in evidence-based treatment.

Regardless, all experts agree on one fact: the opioid epidemic will get worse over the next decade before any improvement occurs.

Here are the 10 Opioid Epidemic Scenarios Projected by 2027

  • SCENARIO 1-

    The worst scenario: In this scenario, the death toll projection for 2027 is 93,613, an 183% increase from 2015.

    In this scenario, the drug overdose total will continue to climb at a steady rate as they have for decades. This scenario assumes that opioid deaths will continue to make up roughly the same percentage of all drug deaths.

  • SCENARIO 2-

    In this scenario, the death toll projection for 2027 is 70,239 opioid deaths. This change would be an 112% increase since 2015.

    This scenario assumes that opioid use climbs for the foreseeable future, but it takes into consideration the potential progress from reducing opioid prescriptions and other interventions.

  • SCENARIO 3-

    In this scenario, the forecast for 2027 is 56,118 opioid deaths. This change would be a 70% jump since 2015.

    This scenario assumes that total opioid deaths will rise slightly because of increasing fatal heroin and fentanyl overdoses. The influx of fentanyl and heroin will offset any improvement in prescription opioid abuse.

  • SCENARIO 4-

    In this scenario, the opioid deaths forecast for 2027 is 46,740. This would be a 41% increase since 2015.

    This scenario assumes that the death toll will increase due to fentanyl and lack of naloxone access. The decline of deaths would occur due to fewer doctors overprescribing opioids due to increase awareness.

  • SCENARIO 5-

    In this scenario, the death forecast for 2027 is 45,000. This would be a 36% increase since 2015.

    This scenario assumes an increase due to fentanyl use and a reduction in prescription opioid abuse. After several years, this scenario assumes that doctors will begin to prescribe painkillers more responsibly.

  • SCENARIO 6:

    In this scenario, the opioid death forecast for 2027 is 44,843. This forecasted change would be a 36% increase since 2015.

    This scenario assumes a sharp increase in deaths for the first few years before the effects of interventions and funding through the 21st Century Cures Act kicks into gear, driving the numbers down.

  • SCENARIO 7-

    In this scenario, opioid deaths for 2027 is 40,652. This would be a 23% increase since 2015.

    This scenario assumes opioid deaths will increase until a combination of intervention strategies like increase naloxone access, decreased prescription opioids, and increased treatment access lower fatal overdoses.

  • SCENARIO 8-

    In this scenario, opioid deaths for 2027 is 40,000. This change would be a 21% increase since 2015.

    This scenario assumes that heroin laced with synthetic opioids will cause opioid deaths to rise for several years. This rise will peak and then later decline as drug users either fatally overdose or seek treatment.

  • SCENARIO 9-

    In this scenario, the death forecast for 2027 is 25,000. This is a 24% reduction since 2015.

    This scenario assumes heroin laced with synthetic opioids will result in increased fatal overdoses for several years. Only after this increase will numbers start to decline, as increased naloxone access, addiction treatment, and more supervised injection sites reduce the numbers significantly, resulting in an overall decrease.

  • SCENARIO 10

    – The best scenario: In this scenario, the death forecast for 2027 is 21,300. This is a 36% reduction since 2015.

    This scenario assumes that doctors will prescribe fewer opioids, and states will embrace prescription drug monitoring programs. Insurers will begin to enact reforms to increase treatment access.

Overall, all scenarios projected by experts agree that the opioid epidemic will get worse before it gets better if it gets better at all.

The experts agree that opioid deaths won’t begin to slow down until at least 2020.  It takes time for governmental efforts to kick in and for education and public awareness to result in positive change.

“It took us about 30 years to get into this mess,” said Robert Valuck, a professor at the University of Colorado-Denver’s School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. “I don’t think we’re going to get out of it in two or three.”

The opioid epidemic costs the US economy nearly $80 billion annually, according to federal officials. STAT notes that the US already spends about $36billion on addiction treatment, yet only 10% of the estimated 2.2 million Americans with opioid use disorder ever seek help.

This epidemic is not going off the radar anytime soon. Plenty of people are still deep into their addiction and need treatment immediately. If this sounds like you or someone you know, please call now. We want to help.

CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135