A new study finds that while reducing opioid prescriptions can save lives, it also can lead to increased heroin use and deaths, The New York Times reports.
Using a mathematical model that includes data about prescriptions, addictions and overdoses in the United States, researchers at Stanford University found in the short term, many policies limiting opioid prescriptions in order to save lives would lead people to start using heroin or fentanyl. Over five to 10 years, that would increase deaths, the researchers report in the American Journal of Public Health.
The study estimated that increasing the availability of naloxone would reduce the total number of predicted opioid deaths over the next 10 years by 4 percent. Combining increased access to naloxone with more needle exchange programs and addiction treatment could save more than twice the number of people than naloxone alone, they concluded.
In an editorial accompanying the study, Amie Goodin of the University of Florida, wrote, “Current policies to limit opioid prescriptions leave some pain patients high and dry, resulting in a new wave of unintended consequences for patients with untreated chronic pain.”
Heroin & the Opioid Epidemic: From Understanding to Action
Heroin and other opioids are ravaging communities across America. Heroin-related deaths increased by more than five times between 2010 and 2017, and drug deaths from fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are seeing a sharp rise as well.