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Opioid Treatment Model Shows There's Work To Do

A new model finds it will take a lot of changes to fix the opioid addiction crisis.
Nick Youngson,
A new model finds it will take a lot of changes to fix the opioid addiction crisis.

There are computer models that help gauge the likely outcomes of any number of decisions – whether it’s the Federal Reserve raising interest rates, a new climate policy, or even what you choose to eat for breakfast.

That hasn't been the case for the opioid epidemic. Now, researchers at Stanford University have developed a computer model of the epidemic that they hope can help point policymakers toward effective strategies.

But by running the model, the researchers uncovered some discouraging news.

“Looking out 10 years, it was disheartening to see that through all the combinations of interventions we tested it was still going to take a lot more to see a really big dip in the deaths caused by this epidemic,” said Allison Pitt, a Ph.D. candidate in the department of management science and engineering at Stanford University and lead author of the new study.

The study modeled what would happen if doctors prescribed 25 percent fewer opioid drugs, drug companies reformulated the pills to make them less addictive, and the government invested in drug-assisted addiction treatment and increased access to naloxone, the overdose reversing medication.

“We were seeing a roughly 10 percent reduction in the expected death toll,” with all of those actions, Pitt said.

The relatively small reduction in the death toll shown by the model shows that there is a lot of work to be done before the epidemic is under control, Pitt said. Still, she believes that the model can be helpful in that work.

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“Elsa Partan is a producer and newscaster with CAI. She first came to the station in 2002 as an intern and fell in love with radio. She is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. From 2006 to 2009, she covered the state of Wyoming for the NPR member station Wyoming Public Media in Laramie. She was a newspaper reporter at The Mashpee Enterprise from 2010 to 2013. She lives in Falmouth with her husband and two daughters.