STAT projection: Opioid overdoses could kill more than 650k Americans in the next 10 years

More than 650,000 people could die from opioid overdoses in the next decade, according to a worst-case scenario projection developed by an expert panel convened by STAT.

To create hypothetic projections on the future of America's opioid epidemic, STAT asked public health experts specializing in epidemiology, clinical medicine, health economics and pharmaceutical use from 10 universities to forecast the scope of the epidemic over the next 10 years.

Here are five things to know.

1. From OxyContin, to heroin, to the rise of synthetics, the opioid epidemic has steadily evolved and worsened in recent decades. Current estimates suggest 100 people die every day from an opioid overdose in America, according to STAT. Recent projections from the New York Times suggest the opioid-related death toll for 2016 will fall around 62,500 when the CDC finishes tallying the deaths.

2. More than 93,000 people would die of an opioid overdose in 2027, according to the health experts' worst-case scenario projection. This scenario assumes the death toll will climb at the same rate it has for decades. This prediction would bring the daily death total up to 250, meaning more than 650,000 people would die of opioid overdoses from 2017 to 2027.

3. A middle-of-the-road projection still puts annual death tolls in 2027 at a mark higher than the worst year on record for gun deaths. The projection could also possibly surpass the death total attributable to the worst year of the AIDS epidemic in the 1990s, when nearly 50,000 people were dying of the disease every year.

4. The best-case scenario depends on physicians prescribing fewer opioids, states implementing prescription drug monitoring programs and insurers increasing access to treatment for opioid use disorder. In this model, opioid-related deaths drop by 36 percent over the next 10 years, bringing the 2027 death toll down to 21,300 people.

5. A consensus emerged among the 10 scenarios put forth by STAT's expert panel. Fatal overdose deaths will not begin to taper off until after 2020 as it will take time for the federal government's current efforts to boost drug enforcement and reduce the number of prescriptions physicians to take hold. However, there is no guarantee such efforts will be effective, according to STAT.

More articles on opioids: 
'We can't arrest our way out of it' — Philadelphia DEA agent talks opioid epidemic in Vice documentary 
Alaska lawmakers pass bill to limit opioid pills prescribed  
Librarians thrust into first-responder role amid opioid epidemic

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