A study from investigators at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Institute for Technology Assessment projects that the opioid overdose epidemic in the U.S. is likely to increase in coming years, and that measures based on restricting access to prescription opioids will have a minimal impact in reducing overdose deaths. In their report published in JAMA Network Open, the team notes that the changing nature of the epidemic — which is now driven by the use of illicit opioids like heroin and fentanyl — has reduced the potential impact of programs targeting prescription opioids.

“The opioid epidemic started with a sharp increase in opioid prescriptions for pain in the 1990s; but since 2010 the crisis has shifted, with a leveling off of deaths due to prescription opioid overdoses and an increase in overdose deaths due to heroin,” says Jagpreet Chhatwal, PhD, of the MGH Institute for Technology Assessment (MGH-ITA), corresponding author of the report. “In the past five years, deaths have accelerated with the introduction of the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl into the opioid supply, leading to a continuing increase in overdose deaths at time when the supply of prescription opioids is decreasing.”

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